The Transactional Model of Stress and Coping

Stress and Coping

Feeling stressed is something everyone experiences, and how we see and handle stressors affects how we think. In the 1980s, Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman developed the transactional model of stress and coping. This model gives us a helpful way to understand how people and their surroundings interact during tough times. It changed how researchers think about stress by focusing on how personal feelings and actions play a role.

Lazarus and Folkman explained their model in the 1984 book “Stress, Appraisal, and Coping.” They wanted to improve on earlier stress theories that looked at the objective parts of stressors and didn’t consider how people feel about stress.

Their model says that dealing with stress is a complex reaction. It’s an ongoing process where you and your surroundings influence each other. Their goal was to show how people judge pressure and what strategies they use to deal with it, whether those are helpful or not.

The transactional model is a crucial idea in stress and coping research. It has shaped how psychologists, health scientists, and others study stress, showing us more about the complexities of stress and how it affects our mental and physical health.

What are the Key Components of the Transactional Model?

At the core are stressors, external or internal events perceived as threatening or challenging. These stressors vary from demanding work situations to personal conflicts or health concerns. Crucially, the individual’s subjective perception of these stressors drives the later process.

The model unfolds in a sequence of appraisals. The primary assessment is the initial step, where individuals assess the significance of a stressor. This evaluation falls into three categories: stressors can be deemed irrelevant, viewed as benign-positive, or recognized as stressful, indicating a perceived threat or challenge.

Following primary appraisal is the secondary appraisal, initiated when a stressor is identified as impactful. Here, individuals test their coping ability, considering available resources, management strategies, and perceived control over the situation.

In the Transactional Model of Stress and Coping, coping mechanisms are pivotal components that individuals use to manage stress. Coping mechanisms refer to people’s strategies and actions when faced with stressors. The model distinguishes between two primary coping types: problem-focused and emotion-focused.

1. Problem-Focused Coping. This involves addressing the stressor by taking action to change or drop the source of stress. Individuals using problem-focused coping might seek information, make a plan, or engage in problem-solving to mitigate the impact of the stressor. This approach is efficient when direct action can change or resolve the stressor.

2. Emotion-Focused Coping. This coping strategy centers on regulating emotional responses to the stressor rather than altering it. Individuals employing emotion-focused coping may seek emotional support from others. Engage in activities to distract from the stressor or use relaxation techniques to manage emotional distress. Emotion-focused coping is valuable when the stressor is beyond immediate control and the focus shifts to working on the emotional impact.

Balanced Integration of Both Approaches:

Effective coping often entails a balanced integration of problem- and emotion-focused coping strategies. The appropriateness of each approach depends on the nature of the stressor and the individual’s perception of the situation. For instance, problem-focused coping may take precedence when facing a controllable stressor. In contrast, when dealing with an uncontrollable stressor, emotion-focused coping may be more beneficial for managing the emotional fallout.

Finally, the model underscores stress and coping as ongoing processes, not isolated events. The outcomes of these processes bear significant implications for an individual’s well-being, influencing aspects such as physical health, mental well-being, and life satisfaction. This comprehensive framework provides valuable insights into the dynamic interplay between individuals and their environment during stressful situations.

What are the Applications of the Transactional Model?

The transactional model of stress and coping has found applications across various fields. Including psychology, health sciences, counseling, and organizational management. Here are some specific applications of the model with examples:

1. Health Psychology:

Application: Understanding and managing chronic illness.

Example: Individuals diagnosed with a chronic illness (e.g., diabetes) undergo ongoing stress related to their health. The model helps healthcare professionals assess patients’ condition appraisals, identify coping strategies, and tailor interventions to improve health outcomes.

2. Counseling and Psychotherapy:

Application: Guiding individuals through challenging life events.

Example: A person experiencing a significant life transition, such as divorce or job loss, can work with a therapist to explore their appraisals of the situation, develop coping strategies, and navigate the emotional challenges associated with the transition.

3. Organizational Psychology:

Application: Understanding and managing workplace stress.

Example: Employees facing high job demands and limited resources may use the transactional model to assess their ability to cope with work-related stressors. Organizations can use this understanding to implement stress management programs, foster a supportive work environment, and reduce employee burnout.

4. Educational Psychology:

Application: Coping with academic stress.

Example: Students preparing for essential exams may experience stress. Educators can use the model to help students appraise their stressors, develop effective study strategies, and manage test anxiety, ultimately enhancing academic performance and well-being.

5. Sports Psychology:

Application: Managing performance-related stress in athletes.

Example: Athletes facing high-pressure situations, such as competitions or important matches, can use the model to assess their appraisals of stressors and implement coping strategies to optimize performance and manage anxiety.

6. Clinical Psychology:

Application: Coping with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Example: Individuals who have experienced trauma can work with therapists to understand their appraisals of the traumatic event, develop coping mechanisms to alleviate distress, and promote recovery.

7. Community Psychology:

Application: Coping with community-wide stressors.

Example: Communities affected by natural disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, can use the transactional model to assess the collective impact, identify community resources, and implement coping strategies to promote resilience and recovery.

8. Family Psychology:

Application: Coping with family-related stressors.

Example: Families facing financial strain or illness can use the model to understand individual and collective appraisals of stressors, fostering open communication and developing coping strategies to maintain family well-being.

In each of these applications, the transactional model provides a valuable framework for understanding the subjective experience of stress, assessing coping mechanisms, and developing targeted interventions to promote adaptive responses and overall well-being.


The stress and coping model has helped us understand how people deal with stress. By emphasizing the personal aspect of stress and the significance of coping methods, it offers valuable insights for researchers, practitioners, and individuals striving for well-being. Recognizing the dynamic and interactive aspects of stress and coping is vital for creating effective interventions and building resilience in challenging situations.

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