A Transactional Model on Stress and Coping

Table of Content

Stress is a term that almost all individuals have already encountered. A great number of human individuals have experienced stress in one way or another. The differing degrees by which this stress has been experienced has mainly been caused by the differing abilities of individuals to cope.

Stress has been defined by Robson & Cook (1995) as “when individuals ‘reach breaking point’, ‘have a weakness’, ‘break down’, ‘reach overload’ and imply a rupture in the individual’s capacity to engage in the world.” Stress is seen as a phenomenon that is able to impinge on individuals across different age groups. (Manfredi ; Pickett, 1987) Stress is thus a maladaptive phenomenon that leads to many different negative consequences for people of different ages. Because of this encompassing nature of stress, many researchers have conducted investigations exploring its different aspects. These have all been in an effort to reach a better understanding of stress in the hopes of achieving better ways of coping and of prevention.

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Coping is described as an individual’s management of the inconsistencies in the needs imposed upon him in a stressful situation and the available resources at his or her disposal. (Quine ; Pahl, 1991) Coping has also been investigated often in academic and scientific researches. Both coping and stress have been linked together in a number of different theoretical frameworks aimed at portraying the mechanism of both concepts in human behavior. One such theorietical framework is the Transactional Model on Stress and Coping developed by Lazarus and Folkman.

The Transactional Model on Stress and Coping by Lazarus and Folkman has been acknowledged as a competent theoretical framework. It has even been considered as the most influential model developed thus far. (Slavin, Rainer, McCreary, ; Gowda, 1991) The model has even been applied in numerous studies and researches exploring the impact of coping and stress on the lives of different individuals. These include mothers, children, senior citizens, and the like. Because of the acclaim that the Transactional Model on Coping and Stress has received, it was chosen for this paper’s analysis.

Achievement of a clearer understanding of the definition and characteristics of the Transactional Model on Coping and Stress is the main objective of this paper. This will be reached through an analysis of the literature already available regarding the theory. Two research papers tackling the conceptual aspect of the model will be assessed. Three empirical research papers will also be analyzed to tackle the application of the model in an experimental setting. Due to lack of availability of material relating to the concept, the five-year restriction on references dates could not be followed. However, it is assured that the most recent papers available regarding the topic were taken. An intersection of the definitions and characterizations of the model present in these five sources will help the present paper provide a holistic presentation of the model. A critique of the different instruments used in the empirical investigations will also be made. The appropriateness and potency of the said instruments and measurements in relation to the Transactional Model on Coping and Stress will be assessed. It is hoped that through the results of this paper, a better understanding of the features of the Transactional Model on Coping and Stress will be achieved and that there will be clearer understanding to the appropriateness of its application in different situations.

Review of the Literature

Stress in families of children with disability: A review of risk and resistance factors

            Knussen ; Sloper (1992) presented the Lazarus and Folkman Transactional Model on Coping and Stress in relation to stress in families of children with a disability. The paper was able to provide a number of literature-based characteristics of the model as well as to provide the author’s own insights regarding the strength of the same. The viability of the model in application to defining stress in a specific family situation was also revealed by the paper. It showed how the model could be used as a foundation of intervention strategies for the families dealing with stress due to a member with a disability.

It was indicated in the paper that the most important characteristic of the Transactional Model by Lazarus and Folkman was the fact that it asserted that nothing can be identified as stressful if it was not perceived as a stressor by the individual in question. The uniqueness of the model is due to its definition of stress. Lazarus and Folkman define stress as something that is dependent on the individual. It is personal and subjective. What a particular person would define as a stress for himself or herself might be different from another person’s definition. (Knussen ; Sloper, 1992)

Because of the very nature of the model’s definition of stress as being different for different individuals, it also does not give predictions regarding consistency in coping styles or mechanisms. Coping will also be different for different individuals because what they perceive as stressors are differing. The model views stress and coping as individualistic concepts that need to be tackled on a person-to-person basis. The model does not assume that there is a simple or even complex equation that can be applied and generalized across individuals when dealing with the concepts of coping and stress.

Helping children manage stress

            Robson ; Cook (1995) provided an even better description of the Transactional Model compared to Knussen  ; Sloper (1992) because their paper was based on the actual descriptions of Lazarus and Folkman. The paper provided more than enough information to be able to give a complete rendition of the merits and characteristics of the model. The model’s usefulness in helping children manage stress in different settings was clearly shown along with the said characteristics.

            The main feature of the Transactional Model focused on by Robson ; Cook (1995) was its emphasis that an individual and his or her environment are connected in a relationship that is reciprocal, mutual, and bidirectional. The main aim of Lazarus and Folkman’s model is the processing of information, the integration of the elements of the individual and the environment, and the changing of meanings.  Meaning is changed for the individual because the model allows it to be integrated into the specific person’s perception of stress.

            The Robson ; Cook (1995) paper also showed that the Transactional Model focuses on three specific areas: the event, the environment, and the individual. This means that coping and stress are multidimensional concepts contributed to by not only the individual’s personal perceptions but also by the specific situation involved as well as by the setting where the event is taking place in. This is exactly why Lazarus and Folkman’s model is phenomenological in attack. This means that it views the individual as unique. Because the individual is unique, the experience of stress and coping are also unique. Robson ; Cook (1995) assert that, when considering the Transactional Model of Coping and Stress, the differences of individuals in perceiving and reacting to stress is essential when devising intervention programs and techniques.

The relationships among the stress appraisal process, coping disposition, and level of acceptance of disability

            The main purpose of the Groomes ; Leahy (2002) study was to examine the different interactions between the process of appraising stress, the disposition of coping, and the level of acceptance of disability. The specific research questions addressed in the study were the following:

“1. Do the types of stress appraisal, level of experience with the situation, and/or locus of stressor  relate to the person’s coping disposition?

2. Does acceptance of disability relate to stress appraisal?

3. Does acceptance of disability relate to coping disposition?” (Groomes ; Leahy, 2002)

Achieving answers to these questions will allow a clearer view into how disabled individuals cope with stress. The results can be applied in the medical profession, in the rehabilitation processes of disabled individuals, and in the daily care of the same.

            A total of 157 individuals participated in the study. The participants were all people with disabilities and were asked to complete four survey questionnaires. However, only 151 questionnaires were analyzed because 6 were not considered usable. The framework used by the study was the Transactional Model of Stress and Coping. It was the outlook used by Lazarus and Folkman that was adapted by both Groomes ; Leahy (2002) in the conceptualization of their research. The model was used to account for the coping disposition aspect of the research.

            The implications of the theory are that the attributions made by an individual of the interaction between a person and the environment to a particular event are what evokes coping responses. The model asserts that when individuals try to mediate between their internal and external demands and there is a lack in resources to meet these demands or when it proves difficult to meet these demands, an individual begins to apply coping processes. The theory, therefore, tries to explain the mechanisms that occur when people undergo the above mentioned management of demands and application of coping processes. (Groomes ; Leahy, 2002)

            The researchers utilized four different questionnaires for the study. These included the Demographic and General Information Questionnaire, the Stress Appraisal Inventory for Life, the Situations Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations, and the Acceptance of Disability Scale. All four questionnaires were answered by the participants after this a multiple regression analysis was conducted together with follow-up univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA). The results of the study showed that certain aspects of the Transactional Model were not supported by the data. However, the results were able to show concrete suggestions that were based on the framework of the Transactional Model. This included the finding that individuals would gain more if they altered their belief and value systems and also if they actively tried to alter the situations they were in, for example by increasing personal resources. By doing this, these individuals would be able to better cope with taxing demands. Over all, the findings of the study indicated that disabled individuals have subjective definitions, which they attribute to identified stressful situations. These definitions are directly related to certain coping processes and to certain levels of disability. (Groomes ; Leahy ,2002)

Stress and coping in mothers caring for a child with severe learning difficulties

            The purpose of this study was to identify the characteristics of children that were linked to stress in mothers with children having severe learning difficulties. The study was also aimed to determine, through an observation of the family, the social characteristics that could help manage and buffer the effects of stress. The researchers made a goal of understanding the mechanism behind the different process in order to get an explanation of how stress in mothers with children having learning difficulties works.(Quine ; Pahl, 1991)

            166 mothers with children experiencing severe learning difficulties were included in the study. The Folkman and Lazarus Transactional Model was identified in the paper to be composed of five different categories for coping resources. These categories included utilitarian resources, health and morale, social networks, general and specific beliefs, and problem solving skills. The mechanism that was established by the model for stress and coping also included five stages. First, the potential stressor becomes present. A primary appraisal is then made. This is an affective assessment of the situation. A secondary appraisal and evaluation follows wherein the individual assesses the options that are available to him or her. The fourth stage involves the application of coping strategies and the final stage is the outcome of the stress. (Quine ; Pahl, 1991)

            The researchers used the Malaise Inventory for the measurement of stress. This was a 24 item binary choice questionnaire that was developed to measure emotional distress.  The Measure of Daily Coping was also included in order to identify the coping strategies employed by the participants. Regression analyses were conducted in order to interpret the data attained from the instruments. The results of the statistical analyses supported the Transactional Model of Coping and Stress. All the variables in the model were seen to have a direct effect on maternal stress except for the variable of life events. It was also concluded that appraisal was an essential mediator that was directly related to an individual’s coping. (Quine ; Pahl, 1991)

Perceived stressful situations and coping strategies utilized by the elderly

            The main goal of this paper was to conduct a descriptive study that would generate information about the kinds of stressful situations that elderly individuals undergo. The identification of the coping strategies employed by the same individuals for the stressful situations was also a goal. The research questions for the study were the following:

1.      What are the kinds of stressors the elderly experience?

2.      What coping strategies are utilized by the elderly to cope with the stressors they experience? (Manfredi ; Picket, 1987)

It was hypothesized that elderly individuals experienced stressors that were more exit-event-based. These included loss of loved ones and threats to the self.

            The Lazarus and Folkman Model defined stress as a person-environment relationship that was mediated by cognitive appraisal and coping. Cognitive appraisal is divided into two stages, primary appraisal and secondary appraisal. Primary appraisal involves the identification of the situation as either irrelevant, benign-positive, and stressful. The primary appraisal is conducted based on the possible outcome of the situation. The secondary appraisal, on the other hand, involves the identification of the possible course of action which will also include the examination of coping strategies available. (Manfredi ; Picket, 1987)

            Coping was viewed by the Transactional Model as a three-component process. These components include actual thoughts or actions, context, and change. Two types of coping may be utilized by an individual. The first is the problem-focused coping which aims at managing or changing the stressor. The second is the emotion-focused coping which aims at regulating affective response to the stressor. The first type of coping is employed when an individual assesses the situation as changeable and the second when the situation is assessed as unchangeable. (Manfredi ; Picket, 1987)

            These concepts were utilized in the research and formed the framework of the study. 51 elderly individuals participated in the study. Elderly individuals involved those who were 60 years of age and older. The instrument used to gather data for the study was The Ways of Coping Checklist developed by Folkman and Lazarus. This was a 66-item checklist consisiting of two parts. The participants were first asked to think of a stressful event that had occurred in the past month. They were then asked to describe the event in full detail. The second part of the procedure involved having the participants select their coping strategy for the specific event they had identified. The selection was made from The Ways of Coping Checklist. The extent to which the strategy chosen was used was also recorded. The findings indicated that elderly individuals utilized a wide range of coping strategies. They exhibited flexibility in their strategies of coping with stress. The most used coping strategy identified was prayer while the infrequently used strategies included self-blame, displacement, and avoidance. This may come as a result of the type of stressors met by the elderly. (Manfredi ; Picket, 1987)

Characteristics of the Model

            The main characteristics of the Transactional Model of Coping and Stress focus on the person-environment relationship involved in stress. (Manfredi ; Picket, 1987; Robson ; Cook, 1995) The model is based on a phenomenological view which focuses on the individual’s uniqueness. The uniqueness of the individual leads to the individualistic approach of Lazarus and Folkman’s model. (Knussen ; Sloper, 1992; Robson ; Cook, 1995)

            The model is also characterized by five stages. These stages include the introduction of the stressor, the primary appraisal, the secondary appraisal, the utilization of coping strategies, and the stress outcome. (Quine ; Pahl, 1991) Two of the five stages are emphasized in the model. These two stages are the primary and secondary appraisal. Primary appraisal involves the identification of the stressful situation. The primary appraisal can either be irrelevant, benignant-positive, or stressful. The secondary appraisal involves the assessment of what can be done regarding the situation. This also involves the identification of coping strategies that can be used. (Manfredi ; Picket, 1987)

            Coping processes are indicated by the model to be evoked when an individual tries to manage his or her external and internal demands and it is found that the task is taxing or that the resources needed for completion of the management are lacking. (Groomes ; Leahy, 2002) The types of categories that characterize the Transactional Model’s view on coping include utilitarian resources, health and morale, social networks, general and specific beliefs, and problem solving skills. (Quine ; Pahl, 1991)

            The Transactional Model was also characterized by two types of coping. The first type is problem-based coping wherein the individual concentrates on strategies that would help him or her manage and alter the stressful situation. The second type of coping is emotion-based wherein the individual strives to best regulate his or her emotions that were invoked by the stressful situation. (Manfredi ; Picket, 1987)

Definition of the Model

The Transactional Model of Coping and Stress is a theoretical framework that portrays stress as being mediated through cognitive appraisals and coping. The Transactional Model states that stress is experienced not only as a result of the cognitive and psychological processes of the individual. It is contributed to by external factors such as the place the individual is in and the things that are happening at the specific moment. Coping is also driven by the same mechanism. This is why coping and stress can not be taken as functions that are similar across individuals. It is very much a subjective experience that requires clear understanding of the interaction of the event, environment and individual attributes.

The Lazarus and Folkman Transactional Model views the experience of stress as a transaction occurring through the individual’s management of demands and resources. There is a step by step process followed by the appraisal of stress. The stressor needs to be identified by the individual first and foremost. A stressor can be different for different people and can only be considered as a stressor once it is identified as such by a specific individual. This identification of the stressor which leads to an identification of a stressful identification is the primary cognitive appraisal. Once the stressor has been identified, there is a need to utilize cognitive functions via a secondary appraisal of what can be done about the situation. Once the appropriate coping strategies have been identified, these must then be applied.

The Transactional Model does not end simply with identification of the appropriate coping strategy, however. The process continues to the initiation of the strategy which eventually results in the stress outcome. The stages involved in the Transactional Model are very much indicative of its individualistic drive.

Instrument Critique ; Application

            One of the instruments that was used in one of the empirical studies utilizing the Transactional Model on Stress and Coping was The Ways of Coping Checklist. This instrument was also developed by Folkman and Lazarus. The purpose of the instrument was to be able to identify the type of coping strategy utilized by an individual. 66 items compose the checklist. These items include a variety of thoughts and actions that individuals utilize in the handling of stressful events. (Manfredi ; Picket, 1987)

            The Ways of Coping Checklist questionnaire is divided into two parts. The first part involves the respondent’s identification of a stressful event that had been experienced in the past month. The details of this event are then given by the respondent. This includes a description of what happened, where it happened and of the other people who were present.  The second part involves the completion of the checklist itself. The checklist is Likert-scale type and includes 4 points from (0) does not apply to (3) used a great deal. (Manfredi ; Picket, 1987)

            Reliability of the Ways of Coping Checklist was investigated by Folkman and Lazarus in a study involving 100 participants. A factor analysis with oblique rotation produced eight subscales. Of the eight subscales, one was problem-focused, six were emotion-focused, and one was a combination of problem-focused and emotion-focused. The eight subscales were problem-focused coping with a  reliability of 0.88, wishful thinking with 0.74 reliability, detachment also with 0.74 reliability, seeking social support with 0.82 reliability, focusing on the positive with 0.70 reliability, self-blame with 0.76 reliability, tension reduction with 0.59 reliability, and keep to self with 0.65 reliability. The total instrument was found to have a high 0.87 reliability. Due to the sample size used for testing reliability, validity was no longer measured. (Manfredi ; Picket, 1987)

Relevance of the Model

            The Transactional Model of Coping and Stress is an essential concept in nursing practices. Every day, nurses are tasked with handling sick individuals who face numerous stressors. Understanding the mechanisms of the Transactional Model allows these nurses to better perform their jobs and to carry out their responsibilities.

            Part of the nurse’s responsibility is to insure that the patient gets better and to maintain the patient’s well being. A stressed patient and one who is unable to cope with the stress will not be able to get well quickly. If a nurse is able to help this patient achieve better coping strategies and better cognitive appraisals of stressful situations, there is an increased chance for faster recovery.

            Also, nurses themselves face many stressful events in the workplace. Acquiring an understanding of the Transactional Model on Coping and Stress will help them be able to better address the stressors that they encounter while performing their jobs. Developing an efficient process of addressing stress will also lead to the improvement of the nurse’s performance. This is critical especially because nurses play a very important role in the medical workplace. They not only handle the patients but also have to work with the doctors as well as the family and friends of the patient. The nurse is exposed to the most number of possible stressors and should have the best tools at his or her disposal in order to best manage this stress.


            The Transactional Model on Coping and Stress is one that views the individual as unique even in the experience of stress and coping. The model is characterized by stages of cognitive appraisals and types of coping strategies that are essential in the over all theoretical framework for stress. Stress and coping are basically dictated by three areas: event, environment, and the individual. Understanding the mechanisms of stress and coping through the Transactional Model will allow nurses to be able to better manage the stressors they encounter in the workplace. Also, knowledge of the Transactional Model will allow them to be able to guide patients on how to handle the stress of their illnesses and of being in a medical facility. Over all, the fact that the Transactional Model is phenomenological in approach accounts for the differences in conditions of the patients handled by nurses and therefore gives a flexible framework that can be utilized to aid the patient towards better well-being.


Groomes, D. A. G., ; Leahy, M. J. (2002). The relationships among the stress appraisal process, coping disposition, and level of acceptance of disability. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 46(1), 15-24.

Knussen, C., ; Sloper, P. (1992). Stress in families of children with disability: A review of risk and resistance factors. Journal of Mental Health, 1(3), 241-256.

Manfredi, C., ; Pickett, M. (1987). Perceived stressful situations and coping strategies utilized by the elderly. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 4(2), 99-110.

Quine, L., ; Pahl, J. (1991). Stress and coping in mothers caring for a child with severe learning difficulties: A test of Lazarus’ transactional model of coping. Journal of Community ; Applied Social Psychology, 1, 57-70.

Robson, M., ; Cook, P. (1995). Helping children manage stress. British Educational Research Journal, 21(2), 165-174.

Slavin, L. A., Rainer, K. L., McCreary, M. L., and Gowda, K. K. (1991). Toward a multicultural model of the stress process. Journal of Counseling ; Development, 70, 156-163.


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