- Mental Health
The 4 Major Types of Stress and How to Manage Them
It's a well-known fact that stress poses serious health risks. There are many types of stress, from positive anticipatory stress (anticipating the birth of a child for instance), to the more acute distress that comes from traumatic situations (the death of a loved one). Not all stress is bad, small amounts of stress can keep you motivated and give you a bit of extra energy to push toward a goal. The stress that builds up and becomes toxic is stress that is chronic and goes unrelieved.
Dr Karl Albrecht, is a pioneer in the development of stress-reduction training for business people. He defined 4 common types of stress: time stress, anticipatory stress, situational stress, and encounter stress. Each has different effects on the mind and body. Fortunately there are also techniques for preventing and better managing these stresses when they occur.
Learn more about the four stress types and how to manage them.
Effects of Stress on Health
There are literally dozens of symptoms that can be linked to stress. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Jaw Clenching
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- Muscle Aches & Pains
- Mood Swings
- Overreacting to Situations
- Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors
- Excess Anxiety
This stress involves anxiety concerning the future. It can be specific to a particular event, or more undefined like a sense of foreboding or fear about the future in general. Often this type of stress is caused by a lack of confidence and fear of failure.
According to a 2008 study published by the National Institute of Health, research suggests that anticipatory stress may affect memory, executive function (set of mental processes that connect past experience with current actions), and decision-making.
How to Manage Anticipatory Stress
- Recognize that the situation you are anxious about has not happened yet and doesn't have to go as you have imagined. Instead, take time to visualize how you would like things to go. Focus on a positive outcome. It will relax the mind. Studies have shown that the mind doesn't always know the difference between a situation that you've repeatedly visualized and one that has actually occurred. This is why many athletes spend time visualizing a winning performance. It helps them not only control stress, but to perform better when it comes time for the actual event.
- Rehearsal can be a great way to relieve anticipatory stress. If you are worried about an upcoming performance, job interview, speech etc. Take plenty of time in advance to prepare and practice. This will relieve stress and boost your confidence.
- Meditation is another great practice for those who fear the future. Meditation is a practice that brings your mind to the here and now, essentially training your brain how to refocus.
This is the type of stress that happens when we end up in a situation we were not prepared for. If you've ever felt “blindsided” by an event, then you have experienced what is known as situational stress. An example might be your significant other suddenly breaks up with you without warning, or you are having a conversation with a group of peers and a misunderstanding or argument occurs.
Situational stress appears suddenly and results in feelings of conflict, surges of anxiety, sometimes physically it feels like your stomach is tied in knots, you may freeze not knowing what to say or do or how to react.
How to Manage Situational Stress
- Because this type of stress is often the result of things that are unpredictable it can be difficult to be fully prepared, however there are some steps you can take improve how you handle life's unpredictable events.
- Listen to your intuition or “gut”. Often times, we feel a sense of “warning” when something is about to go awry. Learn to tune into those subtle senses. Far from being an “out there” idea, intuition is actually a self-preservation mechanism, a means of sensing danger before it occurs. You have probably seen this in action in nature, how an animal can sense it's in potential danger as you approach. It will perk up and become attentive to its surroundings and then take action.
- Be aware of your surroundings and learn to pick up on subtle cues in your environment. Be cautious without becoming paranoid.
- Understand the physical and emotional stress symptoms and your reactions. Understanding how you react to sudden stress can help you learn how to control situations better. For example, if you know that you “clam up” when there is conflict around and don't know what to say or do, practice being more assertive when you are not under stress. If your natural tendency during conflict is to become defensive and start shouting, practice anger management techniques to help you better control your emotions during times of sudden stress.
Time Related Stress
This type of stress involves worrying about time or the lack thereof. If you are constantly under tight deadlines, or you deal with being chronically late or are rushed, these are all examples of time related stress. We've all been there at times, rushing to get out the door to make it to work on time or waiting on a friend whose chronically late when you have dinner reservations.
This type of stress is frequent in our modern hectic society. Learning to manage it is important if you want to work productively and efficiently without always feeling pressured and “under the gun”.
Tips for Managing Time Related Stress
- Learn to prioritize. Important tasks that help you reach your goals are a better use of your time and should be placed at the top of your to-do list each day. It can be easy to get sidetracked by seemingly urgent tasks, but that floor can wait an extra day to be mopped and getting that load of laundry done is not going to help you pass your exam. Always make sure your important tasks are top priority.
- If you often feel there is never enough time in the day to complete all of your tasks, learn how to create more time. Use your peak working time to focus on the more important things on your to do list. When you work more efficiently you get more done in the time you do have. If you're a morning person, schedule your most important tasks for the most productive time of your day and leave the dishes for the evening hours when your energy levels drop off.
- Organize your time effectively using to-do lists and calendars/planners. Having a clear map of what needs to be done and when can help with those feelings of “forgetting something” or being rushed at the last minute.
This type of stress involves interaction with other people. This can happen when you have to interact with a difficult co-worker or someone you dislike. It can also happen when you are in a role such as a customer service role where you are required to deal with a variety of different, and often unpredictable people. Other people like nurses and doctors may also deal with this stress routinely because the people they interact with are usually sick or upset.
Managing Encounter Stress
- Focusing on empathy and developing the EQ (emotional intelligence) can make this type of stress easier to manage. Learning to better understand the emotions, needs and wants of both yourself and others can help make dealing with people come more easily and naturally. Empathy better allows us to see situations from the other persons perspective and as a result solutions to challenges are easier to find.
- Build good relationships with those who are close to you. Having confidants that you can lean on in times of stress is essential. Allow others to support you and don't shut yourself off from your support system.
- Know your limits. If you feel you start to “disconnect” from people as a whole or start to feel jaded, it's a good indicator you are on “overload” and need some down time. Learning to balance your needs with those of others will ensure you are better able to meet those demands. When you start to feel you are at the threshold, take a break – get some fresh air or do some deep breathing exercises.
So, have you dealt with any of these types of stress before? Do you have other coping mechanisms you use that you'd like to share? Feel free to post in the comments.