We’re all affected differently by life’s events. While extreme events like a physical attack by a violent stranger or the diagnosis of a serious illness produce a strong stress response in virtually everyone, many everyday events on the job or at home will be experienced as stressful by some and exciting, challenging, or even exhilarating by others. What accounts for these differences?
- Past Experience
We all carry "baggage," and that affects our current thought patterns and how we conceptualize what’s going on today. These thought patterns impact whether we see something as positive or negative, challenging or stressful, etc.
- Temperament and Personality Traits
Some of us are simply born more reactive to stress than others. Differences in temperament can be observed in infants as young as one day old, and these traits affect how we’re affected by life—for life.
- Overall Lifestyle
Those who lead busy and stressful lives tend to have fewer reserves to help deal with stress. They also tend to encounter more triggers.
Stress Response Differences
How we respond to stress can alter the impact that stress has on us. While some people will deal with a stressful day by hitting the gym or hugging their children, other people may drink to excess or lash out at others. Additionally, some people find stress to be a minor inconvenience while others are completely overwhelmed. Dealing with stress in a healthier way tends to create resilience, of course; ineffective coping can increase the negative effects of stress. What accounts for the different ways people deal with stress?
- Physiological Factors
Just like some people are just born more emotionally reactive, some have a more sensitive physiology, and find that stress impacts their blood pressure, induces headaches, or causes other physical responses. Likewise, the way you care for your body in terms of healthy diet, quality sleep, and regular exercise—or lack thereof—can impact your reactivity to stress.
- Coping Techniques
We all have our different ways of coping with stress, and some of these techniques are healthier and more beneficial than others. If you find that yourself using alcohol, emotional eating, or responding to stress in other less-than-healthy ways, it’s time to find new ways of reducing stress. Over time, they’ll become automatic, and will replace your more unhealthy responses.
- Learned Behavior
How we respond to the stress in our lives is shaped by our early experiences and cemented over time. Our habits play a role as well. Those with healthy habits tend to handle stress more effectively.
Certain features in your life can also keep you somewhat insulated from stress. Those with a supportive network of friends and other personal resources tend to be less affected by stress, and deal with their stress more efficiently.
Because we can’t stop stressors from being a part of life (and we wouldn’t want to eliminate all stress, even if it were possible), effective stress management focuses more on minimizing our triggers, altering our responses, and building up our resources and protective factors so that we’re less negatively impacted by stress. Because stress is such an individual experience, it’s important to have a stress relief plan that works for you. The following resources (as well as the links above) can help you to find ways to relieve stress that work best with your individual situation. You may want to quickly skim each resource and take away information that stands out to you, or focus more deeply on each resource and work on integrating the principles into your life in a more significant way.
Stress Reliever Personality Test
This self assessment tool will allow you to answer a few questions about your lifestyle and personality, and then direct you to stress relievers that may fit best for your particular situation. It’s a useful tool for those who want to begin with techniques that are most likely to work for them.
Stress Symptom Quiz
This tool allows you to quickly examine the different ways that stress may or may not be affecting you, and provides you with ways to deal with stress symptoms that you may have. It educates you on the ways that stress can affect you, while providing specific help with the ways that stress does affect you.
Free Weekly Newsletter
Sign up for the Stress Management Newsletter and you’ll be sent the latest tools and information for dealing with stress in your life—for free! Many people have found this newsletter to be invaluable because it provides ongoing aid to understanding and dealing with the many ways that stress impacts us. Often, you’ll find that it’s just what you needed to see that day!
Emergency Stress Relief
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and just want something to help you relieve stress quickly, these tools can help you reverse your stress response right away, so you can more effectively deal with the issues at hand. (They can provide a nice ‘quick fix’ until you can get more long-term stress management strategies in place.)