Four common types of stress.
Imagine that you work in human resources, and that you've recently been dealing with a lot of people problems. It's been another long day. You're now meeting with your last "client" before you go home.
As you listen to this person's story, you start to get tense. You find yourself avoiding making direct eye contact with her, and you feel yourself shutting down emotionally. You don't want to listen to her complaints at all; instead, you just want to finish.
Rather than taking your frustrations out on this person, however, you apologize and ask for a five-minute break. You go for a quick walk outside, breathe deeply, and then stop for some water. When you go back into your office, you're smiling, refreshed, and ready to help.
Most people experience some degree of stress in their jobs. But if you understand the most common types of stress and know how to spot them, you can manage your stress much better. This, in turn, helps you to work productively, build better relationships, and live a healthier life.
In this article, we'll examine four common types of stress, and we'll discuss how you can manage each of them more effectively.
Dr Karl Albrecht, a management consultant and conference speaker based in California, is a pioneer in the development of stress-reduction training for businesspeople. He defined four common types of stress in his 1979 book, "Stress and the Manager."
Albrecht's four common types of stress are:
Let's look at each of these types of stress in detail, and discuss how you can identify and deal with each one.
You experience time stress when you worry about time, or the lack thereof. You worry about the number of things that you have to do, and you fear that you'll fail to achieve something important. You might feel trapped, unhappy, or even hopeless.
Common examples of time stress include worrying about deadlines or rushing to avoid being late for a meeting.
Time stress is one of the most common types of stress that we experience today. It is essential to learn how to manage this type of stress if you're going to work productively in a busy organization.
Next, make sure that you're devoting enough time to your important priorities. Unfortunately, it's easy to get caught up in seemingly urgent tasks which actually have little impact on your overall objectives. This can leave you feeling exhausted, or feeling that you worked a full day yet accomplished nothing meaningful.
Your important tasks are usually the ones that will help you reach your goals, and working on these projects is a better use of your time. Our article on The Urgent/Important Matrix explains how to balance urgent and important tasks, and our article on prioritization helps you separate tasks that you need to focus on from those you can safely put off.
If you often feel that you don't have enough time to complete all of your tasks, learn how to create more time in your day. This might mean coming in early or working late, so that you have quiet time to focus. You should also use your peak working time to concentrate on your most important tasks – because you're working more efficiently, this helps you do more with the time you have.
For instance, if you're a morning person, schedule the tasks that need the greatest concentration during this time. Our article "Is This a Morning Task" helps you learn how to prioritize your tasks and schedule them during your most productive times of day. You can leave less important tasks, like checking email, for times when your energy levels drop.
Anticipatory stress describes stress that you experience concerning the future. Sometimes this stress can be focused on a specific event, such as an upcoming presentation that you're going to give. However, anticipatory stress can also be vague and undefined, such as an overall sense of dread about the future, or a worry that "something will go wrong."
Because anticipatory stress is future based, start by recognizing that the event you're dreading doesn't have to play out as you imagine. Use positive visualization techniques to imagine the situation going right.
Research shows that your mind often can't tell the difference, on a basic neurological level, between a situation that you've visualized going well repeatedly and one that's actually happened.
Other techniques – like meditation – will help you develop focus and the ability to concentrate on what's happening right now, rather than on an imagined future. Consider setting aside time daily – even if it's only five minutes – to meditate.
Anticipatory stress can result from a lack of confidence. For example, you might be stressing over a presentation that you're giving next week, because you're afraid that your presentation won't be interesting. Often, addressing these personal fears directly will lower your stress. In this example, if you put in extra time to practice and prepare for tough questions, you'll likely feel more prepared for the event.
Last, learn how to overcome a fear of failure: by making contingency plans and analyzing all of the possible outcomes, you'll get a clearer idea of what could happen in the future. This can help diminish your fear of failure and give you a greater sense of control over events.
You experience situational stress when you're in a scary situation that you have no control over. This could be an emergency. More commonly, however, it's a situation that involves conflict, or a loss of status or acceptance in the eyes of your group. For instance, getting laid off or making a major mistake in front of your team are examples of events that can cause situational stress.
Situational stress often appears suddenly, for example, you might get caught in a situation that you completely failed to anticipate. To manage situational stress better, learn to be more self-aware. This means recognizing the "automatic" physical and emotional signals that your body sends out when you're under pressure.
For example, imagine that the meeting you're in suddenly dissolves into a shouting match between team members. Your automatic response is to feel a surge of anxiety. Your stomach knots and feels bloated. You withdraw into yourself and, if someone asks for your input, you have a difficult time knowing what to say.
Conflict is a major source of situational stress. Learn effective conflict resolution skills, so that you're well-prepared to handle the stress of conflict when it arises. It's also important to learn how to manage conflict in meetings, since resolving group conflict can be different from resolving individual issues.
Everyone reacts to situational stress differently, and it's essential that you understand both the physical and emotional symptoms of this stress, so that you can manage them appropriately. For instance, if your natural tendency is to withdraw emotionally, then learn how to think on your feet and communicate better during these situations. If your natural response is to get angry and shout, then learn how to manage your emotions.
Encounter stress revolves around people. You experience encounter stress when you worry about interacting with a certain person or group of people – you may not like them, or you might think that they're unpredictable.
Encounter stress can also occur if your role involves a lot of personal interactions with customers or clients, especially if those groups are in distress. For instance, physicians and social workers have high rates of encounter stress, because the people they work with routinely don't feel well, or are deeply upset.
This type of stress also occurs from "contact overload": when you feel overwhelmed or drained from interacting with too many people.
Because encounter stress is focused entirely on people, you'll manage this type of stress better by working on your people skills. To find out how good your people skills are, take our quiz, and discover the areas that you need to develop.
A good place to start is to develop greater emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize the emotions, wants, and needs of yourself and of others. This is an important skill in interacting with others and in building good relationships.
It's also important to know when you're about to reach your limit for interactions in the day. Everyone has different symptoms for encounter stress, but a common one is withdrawing psychologically from others and working mechanically. Another common symptom is getting cranky, cold, or impersonal with others in your interactions. When you start to experience these symptoms, do whatever you can to take a break. Go for a walk, drink water, and practice deep breathing exercises.
Empathy is a valuable skill for coping with this type of stress, because it allows you to see the situation from the other person's perspective. This gives you greater understanding and helps you to structure your communications so that you address the other person's feelings, wants, and needs.
Crankiness and remoteness can also be symptoms of burnout. If you're an enthusiastic, hard-working, committed person, make sure that you monitor yourself for this, and that you take action to avoid it.
Dr Karl Albrecht published his model of the four common types of stress in his 1979 book, "Stress and the Manager." These are:
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Albrecht, K. (2008) 'Stress and the Manager,' New York: Simon & Schuster.
Osterweil, N. (2012) Does Stress Cause Disease? It Doesn't Help, Reviewers Say. Medpage Today. [online] Available here. [Accessed June 22, 2012.]
Robertson, I.H. (2000) 'Mind Sculpture: Your Brain's Untapped Potential,' Fromm Intl.