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Cognitive Appraisal, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1291

Essay

In my late adolescence and like so many of my peers, I was hired to work part-time in a local fast food restaurant.  For the majority of my peers, this was a positive experience, and was largely anticipated as offering multiple advantages.  The restaurant accommodated school schedules, the work would be largely social due to the numbers of friends employed there, and there was the significant inducement of an actual paycheck.  To a certain extent, I shared in this favorable viewpoint.  At the same time, and as soon as I had secured the job, specific anxieties developed within me that were not, as far as I could identify, within my peers.  Our circumstances were virtually identical and I had no actual reasons to be apprehensive about the job, but there were negative effects for me clearly linked to it and, as noted, commencing even before I began the actual work.

In retrospect, I realize that I allowed relatively normal and minor concerns to take on proportions causing high levels of stress.  My friends, for example, had considered how the job would affect their school and social lives, and had determined that a balance could be achieved.  I came to the same conclusion, but only in a strictly cognitive way; emotionally, I began to develop a sense of being overwhelmed, which in turn generated fears that my grades would inevitably suffer as a result of the altered schedule.  Then, I felt a growing anxiety regarding the income.  While it was clearly the purpose of the work, I entertained serious doubts as to how valuable it would be, given the expenses I foresaw from purchasing a car, applying for college, and buying my own clothing.  It is important to note that these anxieties were well in place before I began work; in a sense, I was completely enabling an unrewarding, if not debilitating, experience.  Then, when I actually began work, the routine of it quickly exacerbated my fears. I had a sense of having locked myself into a negative scenario, a feeling not relieved when my first paycheck was disappointing.

Certain distinctions separate normal levels of anxiety from states wherein the stress takes on undue proportions.  It is established, for example, that a new job, dating, and college applications generate anxiety in typical adolescents.  When, however, the anxiety persists and begins to promote avoidance behaviors in ordinary functioning, it becomes clinically significant and borders on the phobic (McKay, Storch, 2011,  p. 16).

This, I believe, was my situation, and it was not ling before actual negative effects ensued.  My grades did not suffer, but my devoting extra time to schoolwork for this purpose frustrated and angered me.  I perceived myself as “caught,” and this manifested itself in a state of chronic irritability.  I was short-tempered with everyone in my life, as my anxieties about grades compelled me to refuse social occasions.  It is interesting to me now that I also became what I would call miserly; the thought of spending any of the money I was earning upset me greatly, and my behavior reflected this consistent need for control.  Additionally, even though I was physically exhausted most of the time, my sleep was erratic and troubled.

Aware of these effects, I determined to consider alternatives.  That is to say, my reappraisal of the circumstances led me to believe that leaving the job was the correct course to take.  In essence, I would be undoing the damage by removing what I perceived to be the source of my issues.  What prevented me from doing this was not a more focused reappraisal, but another fear; I was concerned as to how my peers would view this quitting, which translated to me as a social defeat.  Ironically, it seems this concern, out of all my anxieties, was perhaps the most valid.  Research supports the logical conclusion that, as adolescence is a period of intense mental and physical development, stress may affect normal development, and social defeat is a potent form of it: “Social defeat is an episodic, short-lasting social stressor that can have long-lasting consequences for brain and behavior” (Buwalda et al, 2011, p. 1717).

This option of quitting then removed by me, I determined to assess the entire situation.  The process occupied me for some time, but I systematically reviewed exactly what I was doing and the reactions I was experiencing.  My solution was then to consciously divest the job of any importance whatsoever.  I still performed my duties as expected, but I denied myself any sense of reward or expectation of positive effects.  In a sense, I reversed my initial viewpoint, and in a way perhaps just as unrealistic or exaggerated.  Nonetheless, I felt that my extremes of anxiety demanded a response equally extreme.  In appraising the job as meaningless, I felt that I would be freeing myself from the associations of undue responsibility I had attached to it.  I was aware then, as I am today, that this was by no means a positive reappraisal.  I was not seeking to identify better aspects to the job; I was more intent on reducing all of its “power” over me.  However, it is reasonable to argue that, as I was confronting the negativity and addressing it as such, the process was nonetheless positive in nature.

The new approach, in fact, succeeded for me.  To begin with, and as I anticipated, my outlook shifted completely.  Unworried about actually keeping the job or thinking in terms of it as a fact in my life for months to come, the work actually became somewhat enjoyable, and I was able to interact with my peers in the restaurant in social, agreeable ways.  Less expected, but even more welcome, was a new ease in attending to my schoolwork.  It was as though, having dismissed the importance of the job, I no longer needed to compensate by exerting myself more strongly in my studies to attain the results I had always achieved.  By taking a somewhat extreme approach, I effectively enabled the balance so desired by adolescents in the same circumstances.  Multiple studies reveal, for instance, that adolescents who devote long hours to jobs tend to neglect school and disassociate themselves from academic achievement.  Conversely, students who balance part-time work frequently evince higher levels of self-esteem and do well in their classes (Fink, 2010,  p. 524).  If I was not then capable of conducting an honest and new appraisal of my stress-inducing situation, I still addressed it in a way creating the positive impacts I sought.

As behaviors and results tend to be exponential processes, I benefited as well in other arenas of my life.  My sleep was restored and my irritability levels were vastly reduced.  This in turn generated more comfortable family and social relations. The money itself was seen by me in a realistic way, and it was suddenly easy for me to merely budget my earnings, and also allow myself some discretionary spending.   As I reflect today, I believe I essentially “tricked” my own mind into discarding the perceptions that were causing high levels of stress for me.  As I had irrationally empowered the job to the extent of rendering it inevitably negative, the only way to alter this was to negate it completely in my mind.  In effect, I maintained the job and all the external circumstances remained the same, but the new and dismissive viewpoint eviscerated the negativity and stress I had myself created.

References

Buwalda, B., Geerdink, M., Vidal, J., & Koolhaas, J. M. (2011).  Social Behavior and Social Stress in Adolescence: A focus on Animal Models.  Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(8), 1713-1721.  Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763410001661

Fink, G.  (2010).  Stress Consequences: Mental, Neuropsychological and Socioeconomic. San Diego: Elsevier.

McKay, D., & Storch, E. A.  (2011).  Handbook of Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders.  New Tork: Springer.

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