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The Four Types of Stress

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician, and author of books for children and adults.

Modern life has the potential for filling our days and nights with stressors.

Modern life has the potential for filling our days and nights with stressors.

Different Types of Stress

According to Karl Albrecht, author of the book Stress and the Manager: Making It Work For You, stress can be caused by a variety of factors. He points out that:

“… most of the chronic stress experienced by twentieth-century Americans comes from anxiety.”

We all experience stress in different ways as individuals, but the key to dealing with stress effectively lies in being able to recognize the type of stress you're experiencing. Albrecht believes that, whoever you are and whatever your situation, these stresses fall into one of four categories or types. Knowing which type of stress you're dealing with means you'll be better able to activate the correct coping mechanisms.

Common Stress Categories

Dr Albrecht defined four common types of stress:

  1. Time stress
  2. Anticipatory stress
  3. Situational stress
  4. Encounter stress

We'll examine each of these four types of stress in detail below, but first, let's look at why stress is such a big issue in our modern world.

Part of the problem has to do with the pace of life. Since the end of the second World War, things have accelerated at an alarming rate. If you consider the number of inventions or processes that have been developed in the last fifty years, for example, or the way the earth's population keeps expanding, you can begin to appreciate the scale of the changes taking place. Everything is getting faster, everything is growing, and our thirst for new and exciting products and ways of living seems practically limitless.

The feeling of running out of time can put you under enormous pressure!

The feeling of running out of time can put you under enormous pressure!

1. Time Stress: Deadlines and Punctuality

Most people have experienced time stress—the feeling of rushing to get to a meeting or struggling to finish a report or tax return on time. You might recall waiting for a train or bus in the hope that it came in time to deliver you to the airport, the hospital, or some other equally important destination. Even when you're able to drive yourself, there's no guarantee that you'll make it when you need to, and the potential of being late fills you with anxiety.

You worry about being on time, you worry about not having enough time to get a particular job done, and you worry about how you're going to fit all the things you have to do into a limited time frame. Of all the types of stress highlighted by Albrecht, time stress is probably the most common in the lives of most people, especially those of us who have to get to and from work every day.

According to physical fitness pioneer Bonnie Prudden, "You can't turn back the clock. But you can wind it up again."

Coping with time stress depends on finding techniques for using your time efficiently. Here are some basic ideas you could put into place to relieve some of that time-related pressure.

Put in an efficient day's work and time just flies by!

Put in an efficient day's work and time just flies by!

Tactics for Tackling Time Stress

If you ever hope to work productively, either as part of an organization or for yourself, you have to be able to manage your time effectively and efficiently. Here are a few tips on how to go about it:

  • Prioritize - You've probably heard it before, but it's still as true as it ever was. Get the urgent stuff done first so it's out of the way: do that and you'll have more time to play with. Make lists of tasks in order of importance or completion date, and update the list at the beginning of every day or week as necessary.
  • Take Action - It's not enough to make lists on their own: you need to be proactive. Once the important or urgent jobs have been prioritized, work through them, ticking them off as they get completed. This helps you see on paper exactly where you're going, and every time you finish a task successfully, it'll help spur you on to the next one.
  • Exploit Productivity - Are you a morning person? Do you work better after lunch? Find your most productive part of the day and use that to tackle essential tasks. Focus on getting the big stuff done when your energy levels allow it, and use any "down time" for less vital chores such as checking emails or planning next week's workload.
  • Stay in Control - Do tasks that need to be done, and avoid taking on extra work just to be helpful. Learn how to say no when necessary. Focus on doing a decent job with the work you have to do, and don't let others fob some of their work off on you.

Naturally, none of these points will make the slightest bit of difference unless you put them in place. You need to be determined and adopt the right attitude. As Thomas Jefferson said, "nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal."

Stress and Stressors

Stress can be defined as the way we react to any change that provokes a mental, emotional, or physical response or adjustment.

A stressor is any person, place, thing or situation that elicits such a response or adjustment.

2. Anticipatory Stress: Fear of the Future

Stress can also be caused by worrying about the future. Meetings, presentations, reviews... they can all produce anxiety. Sometimes the anxiety comes from not knowing what to expect, and sometimes it comes from the thought of the event itself. You might be required to speak in public, or present an argument, or justify your role, and what really stresses you out is the potential for failure.

What if it all goes wrong? What if your throat dries up or you panic and are unable to deliver? What if your arguments or proposals are laughed at or dismissed as inappropriate?

You can just as easily imagine a disaster as you can a success. Even seasoned professionals get nervous thinking about situations where they are on display, so to speak—and that's why they develop strategies to make sure they come out on top.

Planning Future-Proof Possibilities

If you want to, you can create a worst-case scenario for any future event. That's how powerful your mind is. It can visualize practically any situation and let you act it out in your head. That means you have the power to imagine the perfect presentation and try to work towards achieving it.

  • See Yourself Succeeding - Go over the future situation in your mind until you can clearly visualize yourself performing. Allow this future you to do extremely well. Make your vision as positive, confident and flamboyant as you can so that your colleagues and superiors are impressed.
  • Practice Your Routine - Rehearse everything you're going to say and do so that you'll be less likely to stumble over your words or forget what you were going to say. Get everything down pat so you're able to give a smooth and professional presentation with flair and confidence.
  • Cover All the Bases - If you're worried about failing, plan to succeed. Try to think of everything that could possibly go wrong and make allowances. Anticipate any problems that might arise and create contingency plans. This will not only help you get through the occasion successfully, but will also demonstrate your ability to think on your feet and cope with whatever gets thrown at you.

If you're ready for it, you can cope with anything. Be prepared and you'll find it much easier to stay in control and perform to the best of your ability.

3. Situational Stress: Out of Your Control

When we talk about situational stress, we're referring to stress brought on by conflict and emotion. You've probably been in a situation where everything seems to be going smoothly, and then all of a sudden one of the participants gets hot under the collar, starts shouting and gesticulating, and the whole event descends into little more than a playground farce.

There are plenty of situations that can generate anxiety, and it's not always easy to anticipate what might happen. The problem is that everyone is different, and everyone reacts to difficult situations in their own way. Some people join in the shouting and arguing, while others back away and withdraw emotionally from the scene. The important thing to remember is that these types of stressful situations will happen, so you need to spend some time learning how to become emotionally prepared.

Getting a Handle on Situational Stress

As mentioned above, stressful situations are going to arise. They might happen in the office, in the grocery store, in the line at the post office, at the bank, or anywhere you interact with other people. Often the simplest way to deal with them is to be ready for them when they appear.

  • Stay Calm and Collected - letting your temper or your mouth run away with you won't solve anything. In fact, it could make matters worse. Shouting at a colleague or superior isn't going to do you any favors, either. Stay cool and try to keep a lid on your emotions to demonstrate your maturity and willingness to cooperate.
  • Know Your Weaknesses - how do you respond to conflict? Some people shrink away and want to bury themselves in a deep hole. Others confront it and get involved in the crossfire. It can be difficult to stay focused in times of conflict, but being able to do so will help you come out on top.
  • Expect the Unexpected - every meeting you attend and every presentation you give has the potential for conflict. People don't always behave the way we expect them to, and their reactions can sometimes catch us off guard. Be ready for anything, knowing that your best defense is to be as prepared as you possibly can.
  • Practice Conflict Resolution - conflict arises because people have different needs. If they feel those needs aren't being met, they feel threatened and respond accordingly. Learn how to meet people halfway in order to generate discussion and find a peaceful resolution to the problem.

4. Encounter Stress: Dealing With People

Encounter stress occurs when you have to deal with a person or group of people that, for one reason or another, you'd rather not. It might be that you don't like them, or that they don't like you, or that you just never know how they're going to react.

In today's fast-paced world, people skills are essential. Whatever line of work you're in, chances are you'll be dealing with people. They might be clients, patients, customers or members of the public in general. Most of the time, you're probably comfortable dealing with them, but everyone has their limits.

Perfect Your People Skills

You can prepare yourself for encounter stress by working on your people skills.

  • Be Understanding - take an empathic view of the other person and try to see the situation from their perspective. Just like you, they have feelings. They have needs that must be met if they are to feel an important part of the equation.
  • Recognize Signals - look out for signs that the people you deal with may be under pressure themselves. You might be having a good day while theirs could be turning into a nightmare, and vice versa.
  • Take a Break - everybody has limits, and you need to be aware when you reach yours. Dealing with people continuously, day after day, can be exciting... but it can also be physically and mentally draining. Schedule in some "me time" even if it's just a ten minute break, time for a glass of water or a walk round the block to help you regain your sense of equilibrium.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: How does stress elicit physiological symptoms?

Answer: When you feel stress, a signal gets sent to your brain, and then your body responds so that it can reduce the stress, cope with the stress, or eliminate the stress. So it might send out adrenalin if you need to escape a dangerous situation, or dopamine if you need to relax and unwind.


JohnMello (author) from England on April 07, 2016:

Thanks MartyMcFly. Glad you enjoyed it.

MartyMcFly on April 07, 2016:

Very useful article, thanks for putting the advices down ;)

I had some svery stressful times lately and don't want them to return.

I used to calm a little bit down by listening to some smooth nature sounds at the end of a very stressful day, like these:

This worked pretty good, but trying to avoid stress even before it happens sounds much more comfortable^^

So, thanks for uploading this again and have a nice day!

JohnMello (author) from England on February 02, 2014:

Thanks gsidley!

Dr. Gary L. Sidley from Lancashire, England on February 01, 2014:

A high quality, informative hub packed with sensible information and advice.

There are many definitions of stress. The one I used to use was: 'The perception that external demands exceed our coping resources'.

Voted up and useful.

JohnMello (author) from England on June 15, 2013:

Thanks Purpose Embraced! Glad you liked it.

Yvette Stupart PhD from Jamaica on June 14, 2013:

I really like the information in your hub. I didn't really know that stress could be classified. I think probably anticipatory stress could be my greatest enemy. I like the suggestion you gave to deal with it including visualizing myself succeeding.

JohnMello (author) from England on April 09, 2013:

Thanks QueenBex! Glad to know it proved useful to you.

QueenBex on April 09, 2013:

Really informative hub! Interesting to read about these main types of stress and how to deal with them. I can relate all to well to Time stress in particular, indeed I have found making lists helpful, I should try to do this more often. :)

JohnMello (author) from England on April 08, 2013:

No worries!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on April 08, 2013:

You did a great job with the topic! I apologize if my comment came off as sounding critical. Chalk it up to my current level of stress causing my brain's thought processes to misfire! ;-)

JohnMello (author) from England on April 07, 2013:

Thank you all for the brilliant comments. ComfortB, I'm glad the test wasn't too streesful :)

DzyMsLizzy, excellent points about the various types of stress. I tried to give an overview without making the Hub too long - otherwise people might not spend time reading it. Hope I did the topic some justice, though.

kesineel on April 07, 2013:

Bravo!! I like a hub of the day -- The 4 types of stresses.

Tirralan Watkins from Los Angeles, CA on April 07, 2013:

John, this is an excellent hub, well-written and absolutely deserving of the Hub of the Day accolade!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on April 07, 2013:

Congrats on HOTD! Very well laid out, and easy to understand.

To add to the stressor causes under the categories:

Anticipatory stress doesn't necessarily have to do with meetings or presentations--I am currently under just such stress awaiting knee replacement surgery. I'm very stressed, as, at age 65, I've never been in the hospital but twice, for routine surgeries, ever.

Situational stress can also be caused by financial hardship--something I believe is common to many, many people after the economic crash....which I also know first hand. Also, caused by worry over a partner's health no wonder my blood pressure is up: I'm suffering from 3 triggers under 2 categories!

Sadly, all the positive visualizations in the world are not going to fix the economy, or magically mend a worn out heart....

However, for the examples you used, the suggestions are excellent. It IS possible to think yourself into or out of a panic attack when faced with public speaking or asking the boss for a raise.

Time stress? I am on the fence--able to go either way. I do stress, and intensely dislike being "under the gun" on someone ELSE's schedule---but, if it's a project of my own, I often do my best work at the 11th hour against a deadline of my own making. Go figure! ;-)

Voted up, useful and interesting.

CZCZCZ from Oregon on April 07, 2013:

This was an interesting hub to read through. I feel the time related stress frequently through the week and agree with the suggestions you mention for being able to control it. Learned a few things reading through the different types and more about them. Thanks.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on April 07, 2013:

Thanks for posting this information/ book review-- I can always use extra ways to tackle stress!

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on April 07, 2013:

This is a good post. Many are stressed but don't know why. By pin pointing the cause, people can actually address the stress better.

Better Yourself from North Carolina on April 07, 2013:

Congrats on Hub of the Day! Great hub and great information. I never thought about the different types of stress, it's interesting to see the break down on paper and great coping tips.

Laszlo Jaeger from Budapest on April 07, 2013:

Really great hub. I like how you write about the different aspects of stress.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on April 07, 2013:

Hey John, It's funny how when stress comes knocking, we don't think to classify it. It's just stress. BTW, I scored 100% on your 'stress quiz'. What does that say about me? I'm not stressed, am I? :)

Congrats on your HOTD away.

Marie Hurt from New Orleans, LA on April 07, 2013:

Stress is a killer and it is important to recognize when you are under a lot of stress and learn how to cope. Sometimes, you just have to let go.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on April 07, 2013:

Great HOD. My cardiologist recently told me grief is like stress in that it releases adreniline into your system and overtaxes your body. He suggested more exercise.

vandynegl from Ohio Valley on April 07, 2013:

Nice job! I like that you stated that anxiety is the main cause of our chronic stress. Although I don't have work related stress, plain old anxiety about life in general is enough to stir up stress when you don't need it! My motto now comes from Mark Twain: "I've been through some terrible things in life, some of which actually happened." Thank you for sharing! (Enjoyed the quiz too!)

Nancy Owens from USA on April 07, 2013:

This is a great article that breaks down this complex topic into chunks that are easy to understand and put to good use. My hat is off to you. Thank you for writing such an informative and timely piece.

JohnMello (author) from England on April 07, 2013:

Many thanks sriramapriya, drpennypincher, petertheknight and pinto2011 for your great feedback!

Subhas from New Delhi, India on April 07, 2013:

You have defined a thing which has become an integral part of our modern day life. Very gracefully you have detailed everything.

petertheknight from Atlanta, GA on April 07, 2013:

Wow, so much detail! Very well written. I will have to read the whole hub later on.

Dr Penny Pincher from Iowa, USA on April 07, 2013:

Interesting to see the break-down of the different stress types. I can think of some unpleasant times when I experienced all 4 types simultaneously! Recognizing the different types of stress will help divide and conquer.

sriramapriya from India on April 07, 2013:

Perfect hub. Thank you very much to posting this hub.

JohnMello (author) from England on April 07, 2013:

Good idea, baja2013! They say attitude is everything, right?

Bajazid from Sarajevo, Bosnia on April 07, 2013:

Interesting hub and useful to check myself on each type of stress individually. I have all of them, almost every day :)

I don't know is it good approach, but every stress situation I solve in two steps: first one is recognizing situation as a stress one, and the second step is take a deep breath and say to myself: "I don't care. There is tomorrow and this will be yesterday."

This saves me hundred times not to brake or smash somebody :)

JohnMello (author) from England on April 07, 2013:

Thanks sid76... really appreciate it!

JohnMello (author) from England on March 22, 2013:

Thanks very much khmazz! Glad you enjoyed it.

Kristen Mazzola from South Florida on March 22, 2013:

Very informative and well written! Thanks for all of the great insight into stress, there are a lot of factors I had never considered! Great Hub!

JohnMello (author) from England on March 21, 2013:

Thanks Didge. Can be hard to do, but necessary sometimes.

Didge on March 20, 2013:

Really interesting and informative, especially the part about NOT taking on someone else's workload as well as my own, (trying to be helpful).

JohnMello (author) from England on February 26, 2013:

Wow! Glad it was of some use to you, VivaLaVina! And thanks for reading...

VivaLaVina on February 26, 2013:

By reading this hub of yours, my stress just popped out its head and made itself recognisable. Now, I'm going to do some practice to relieve this stressful stress!

JohnMello (author) from England on February 04, 2013:

Thanks sarahshuihan!

sarahshuihan on February 04, 2013:

Very useful, I will be sharing this!

JohnMello (author) from England on February 04, 2013:

Thanks bingskee, be my guest!

bingskee from Quezon City, Philippines on February 04, 2013:

thank you for sharing this. i'll be sharing this in my FB page, too, if you don't mind. :)