Introduction: the nature of stress
Stress is a necessary part of life, but the impact it has on people varies, depending partly on their personality traits. In this chapter, we discuss how personality, stress reactions, styles of cognitive appraisal and coping relate to stress vulnerability and emotional problems arising from stress. The most straightforward research on personality and stress is correlational in nature. As we shall see, there is abundant evidence that shows traits, especially neuroticism (N), are associated with high levels of stress symptoms, including mental disorders. Beyond correlational studies, there are several more difficult issues. One issue is whether high N is truly a causative factor on stress outcomes: perhaps increased N is simply a concomitant of stress, with no direct causal influence. A second theme which we will develop is that ‘stress’ refers to a multitude of concepts that may be only loosely related, including exposure to disturbing events, physiological response to threat, biases in cognition and disruption of everyday social interaction. A third theme is that of person–situation interaction in the stress process, consistent with the interactionist approaches to personality reviewed in chapter 2.
It is useful to begin with some definitions of stress. Because the term ‘stress’ is imprecise, it is interpreted in many different ways. Therefore, below, we give a brief overview of the concept of ‘stress’ before we consider, in the rest of the chapter, how it relates to personality traits.
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