Stress pervades everyday life and more importantly, affects prefrontal cortices that support executive control functions, processes that are critical to learning and memory as well as a range of life outcomes. The positive or negative effect of stress on cognition depends on an interaction of factors related to the situation and the individual. Research has shown that psychological characteristics related to self-relevance and the availability of resources may lead individuals to perceive a stressor as a threat or challenge, driving performance outcomes. Given that perception is arguably the key to stress reactivity, positive affect and self-belief constructs are discussed in the context of how they may lead to preserved performance in the face of stress. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of stress perception could inform the development of interventions, a socially important endeavor given the impact of stress on health and cognitive functions.