UncategorizedCognitive Appraisal: How we see things, not the situation itself determines how we feel

08/03/2022by archita

How will I get a job in this COVID climate? I am the most unfortunate.

Again he has forgotten to call me back. Why does he not understand?

I am useless. I woke up so late.

Me and my partner broke up. I am unlovable.

Why does this always happen to me?

We often catch ourselves feeling really shitty about the situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes we get anxious, sometimes we withdraw. We may notice feeling low and sad, or on the edge. We may behave differently, avoid work or people, feel tired and fatigued by our circumstances.

However, it is important to note that situations never directly cause us to feel the way we do. Something very personal comes in between the situation and how it makes us feel. This is our perspective of the situation, also known as cognitive appraisal.

The father of stress research, Hans Selye once noted, “It’s not what happens to you that matters, but how you take it.” Greek Philosopher Epictetus said, “Men are disturbed, not by things, but the views which they take of them.” So we say that “Stressors, like beauty, lie in the eye of the beholder.”

Let us take an example. Arjun, Baani and Charu, part of the same team at work, all receive an email from their boss regarding an urgent meeting the next day that they all have to attend..

Arjun immediately thinks “This is bad news. Are we going to be fired? Will our salaries be cut again? What if I have no job starting tomorrow.” As his chain of thought continues, he feels more and more stressed.

Baani thinks, “He is specifically requesting everyone’s attendance as I did not attend the last meeting. This is directed at me. He doesn’t believe that I was sick and doesn’t like me.” She started to feel low and incompetent.

Charu thinks, “Let me put this on my calendar so that I don’t forget.” She does that and her day continues without engaging any further into the meaning of the email. 

How we feel about a situation will vary to a great extent with how we interpret it. Even in difficult situations, such as losing a job, some people may feel hopeful about the way ahead and in their ability to bounce back, whereas others may feel hopeless. 

Why is that? We are all different and many of us have a tendency to interpret our situations more negatively. This is fairly common, but is also something that we can work on. The mood we are in to begin with, will also have an influence on how we interpret the situation. You may have noticed that when you are feeling low, a comment can feel like an insult. When you are angry, things seem more unfair. 

By becoming aware of the fact that we are not always accurate in our interpretations of situations, we can make an attempt to be more mindful before jumping to negative conclusions about the future, others and ourselves.