The Transactional Stress Model and the Anxiety of Caregivers

February 3, 2020 Nicola Spendlove

In the healthcare setting where I work, we employ a transactional stress model. I have found this theory to be extremely helpful in how I support my brother, Josh,* through his depression and anxiety. Here's a reflection on my experience.

Not Knowing the Transactional Stress Model Effects

I Struggled to Talk to My Brother When I Was Stressed

When Josh was first diagnosed in 2014, I wasn't in the best headspace myself. I was in my early twenties and spent a lot of time partying but very little taking care of my body and mind. I also had personal issues bubbling in the background that made me emotionally fraught. All of these factors combined meant that whenever I spoke to Josh at that time, it would generally end in tears, raised voices, or both. It wouldn't necessarily have to be a discussion about anything serious, either -- we could be talking about sandwich toppings and both end up inconsolable. 

Our Relationship Improved as My Stress Did

As time progressed, our relationship improved dramatically. This coincided with things settling down greatly for my mental health. I had stopped drinking alcohol, improved my nutrition and sleep, availed myself of counseling, and overall carved out a routine that balanced rest and meaningful activity in a way that suited me. I felt a sense of peace and stability that I had never experienced before. In retrospect, I see that I brought this with me to my interactions with Josh. 

The Transactional Stress Model Proved My Experience Was Real

A penny dropped when my workplace provided us with training on the transactional stress model. This model perpetuates the idea that stress is contagious, especially to people with high levels of anxiety who are keenly alert to the emotional states of those around them.1 We, as professionals, are, therefore, obligated to address our stress before entering the work environment so that our clients are not exposed to it. I realized upon learning this that it was no coincidence that my feeling calmer made it easier for Josh to have a relationship with me. 

How I Monitor My Stress

Being conscious of the transactional stress model plays a huge part in how I approach Josh these days. Before I visit or call him, I run through a mental checklist. How am I feeling? Have I taken steps to reduce my stress today -- did I exercise, or do a meditation? What's my heart rate like? I will generally do a quick body scan, and if I notice signs of stress, I take a step to reduce them before I speak to Josh. 

A friend had a baby recently, and although I was desperate to visit, I had cold symptoms and knew the baby would be highly susceptible to catching viruses. I, therefore, postponed my visit until the symptoms were gone. This is the same principle I now use with Josh and my stress. Of course, there are inevitably situations when he will see me upset, but this technique reduces many unnecessary instances. 

What are your thoughts on this transactional stress model? Do you find your stress levels impact your interactions with someone you support? Have you found yourself susceptible to ''catching'' stress from others?


  1.  Lazarus, R.S., and Folkman, S., ''Transactional Theory and Research on Emotions and Coping.'' European Journal of Psychology, September 1987.

* Name changed to protect confidentiality.

APA Reference
Spendlove, N. (2020, February 3). The Transactional Stress Model and the Anxiety of Caregivers, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Nicola Spendlove

Find Nicola on Facebook and Instagram.

Leave a reply