Chapter 12. Stress, Health, and Coping

Chapter 12 Introduction

Jennifer Walinga and Jorden A. Cummings

Stress has been defined as the physiological and psychological experience of significant life events, trauma, and chronic strain (Thoits, 2010). It has long been believed and demonstrated that the level of stress an individual experiences can negatively impact his or her health. Therefore, stress management has become an increasingly important focus from both a personal and organizational perspective.

Canadian mental health services

The Canadian government, for instance, recognizes the personal, economic, and social costs of stress and therefore declares that its role includes helping “Canadians maintain and improve their mental health, including coping with stress” (Health Canada, 2008). In 2007, the federal government provided funding to establish and support the Mental Health Commission of Canada to lead the development of a national mental health strategy. Services developed include:

The three constructs of health, stress, and coping are complex, both as separate concepts and as they interact with one another. For instance, stress can be perceived both negatively and positively: it can have both a negative deleterious effect on health, and a positive health-promoting effect depending on the individual’s interpretation or appraisal of the stress. The level of stress a person experiences can also determine the degree of impact on health and performance, which invites the question, At what point does the stress become just too much to take? Likewise, health is a multifaceted construct, and an individual’s health is relative, perceptual, and contextual. Finally, the concept of coping has spawned many other concepts besides management of stress such as resiliency, thriving, tolerance for ambiguity, and stress-related growth (SRG).

Stress, health, and coping is a focus of health psychology, an area of psychology focused on understanding how psychology and health intersect. Health psychologists might examine psychosocial factors related to health and disease, how psychology can promote a healthy life, and how psychology can play a role in medicine.

Positive psychology is another area of psychological research that focuses on the “opposite” of some of the more negatively valanced topics traditionally examined in psychology. For example, instead of examining stress and negative events, positive psychology focuses on wellness, strengths, virtues and resilience. In the last section of this chapter, we will examine major findings within positive psychology with a specific focus on gratitude, forgiveness, and humility.


Health Canada. (2008). Mental health – coping with stress. Retrieved from

Thoits, P. A. (2010). Stress and health: major findings and policy implications. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(1), suppl S41–S53.


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