People experience and respond to stress in different ways. There are seven reasons why this happens:

1) Personality

There are several dimensions of personality, but the most important dimension, the one that explains most varience, is neuroticism versus stability. The term ‘neurotic’ has a meaning in common usage and one that isn’t flattering. By contrast, to the psychologist, the dimension of neuroticism - or negative affectivity - is simply a dimension on which people vary and should not imply a value judgement. Nice people can be neurotic! A person high in neuroticism exhibits a much greater physiological response to a stressful event than a person low in neuroticism - low in neuroticism means high in stability.

2) People value goals differently

People vary in the importance they attach to different goals. When considering whether or not a person becomes stressed by an event, the first quesiton to ask is ‘To what extent is this person’s life changed for the worse?’

3) People experience different kinds of goal conflict

Many people live lives where they have obligations to others and where demands are put on their time. It is not unusual for these many different obligations to be in conflict. Work demands and home-life demands are frequently in conflict. Goal conflict occurs in any situation where a person has competing demands on their time, not just those related to work-life balance.

4) People cope with stress differently

When presented with a stressor, a person makes two kinds of judgement:

  • What is needed to cope with this situation?
  • Have I got the resources to cope with this situation?

A stressor can be interpreted as a threat or as an opportunity. People vary along a personality dimension of optimism versus pesimism. Optimists are more likely to see the future as benign and a stressful situation as giving rise to an opportunity. People vary in the extent to which they believe that they have the resources to deal with new and threatening situations. Poeple high in hardiness or resilience believe that they have the competence to control the world around them. This perception of competence and control makes them find a threat less stressful than others might.

5) Social support protects people from stress

Research shows that people who experience high levels of social support are less likely to become stressed. In addition, if a situation is perceived as stressful, then people high in social support show fewer adverse effects to the stressor. In short, social support protects against stress. Measures of social support distinguish between the practical support and the emotional support that others give. They are both important for reducing stress.

6) Exercise protects against stress

The immediate effect of exercise is that it creates the biological changes associated with stress. But if exercise if practised regularly, then those biological changes are associated with less stress. Acute exercise is therefore a stressor, but chronic exercise is (in general) a de-stressor.

7) Some people create stress

People do not just respond to their environments, they also change them. Some of that change involves the impact one person has on another. In the late 1950s, two American cardiologists, Friedman and Rosenman, proposed a personality type called ‘Type A’. The Type A personality is someone who is high in hostility, competitiveness and time urgency. People with a Type A personality tend to show a greater physiological response to a stressor. The Type A concept is important because a hostile, time-urgent and competitive person is likely to create stress for themselves and for others. So stress produces the kind of interaction that increases stress. The increased stress then produces the type of social interaction that increases stress. Stress easily becomes a vicious cycle where it feeds on itself.   This is an edited extract from Michael Hyland's Stress: All That Matters, follow the link below to purchase: