Managing Stress: Stress and Stress Reactions

What is stress?

Stress is our body’s reaction to sensing danger.  We need stress and we can’t function without it.  It helps us to stay safe but also to take action.  However, if it goes on too long or isn’t addressed it can have a negative impact and affect our health.

Where does stress come from?

Stress can have a number of sources: our health, finances, relationships, environment, work pressures, big life changes, even global pandemics resulting in months of lockdown and social distancing.  It can also result from happy events like having a baby or starting a new job.  There are also lots of every day stresses; trying to hit a work deadline, a crashing computer, speaking at a networking event, family arguments, or rushing to get the kids to school.

Each of us reacts to stress in different ways.  The same stressors (or sources of stress) will have a different impact on different people.

Stress container

The idea of the stress container is helpful here.  This is a tool from MHFA (Mental Health First Aid England) that gives a really useful explanation of how stress affects us.

Diagram of stress container overflowing with stress

Imagine each of us has a stress container that stress flows into.  The container size depends on how vulnerable we are to stress.  This could be due to our genes, life experiences or our environment.  If we have a high tolerance for stress, our containers are big and a low tolerance for stress results in a smaller container. 

As the stresses build up, the container fills up.  When there is too much stress our container overflows.  This is when we become stressed and can encounter some problems.

What is your stress signature? 

How do we know our container is overflowing?  Each of us has a unique stress signature.  Perhaps we become tired or irritable.  We can lack focus or struggle to make decisions. 

How would someone close to you know that you’re stressed?  What does that look like for you personally?  You could think about how it affects your mood, your energy levels, your body, or how you communicate.

Common stress reactions

The Resilience Engine has over a decade of research into human resilience.  Below are some common stress reactions that they have identified.  Have a look at this list and see if you recognise yourself as tending to do one of these when you’re under pressure:

  • Procrastination. 
  • Lack of empathy
  • Short term focus and reactivity
  • Preference for certainty
  • Poor decision making
  • Focus on data rather than people

Resilience Engine research found the most common reaction, at 40%, to be procrastination.  Procrastination is quite different from reactivity or needing certainty.  Different people react to the same stressors differently and this can also be a source of conflict or misunderstanding.

Our stress reaction affects our ability to cope with change.  When we are stressed, our stress reaction can make it hard for us to function effectively, communicate well, adapt or come up with solutions to problems. 

Being aware of sources of stress and our stress reaction is the first step in being able to manage stress.  Have a ponder of these questions and let me know what you discover:

  • What sources of stress are you affected by?
  • How do you react to stress?
  • What is your stress signature?
  • How are the people around you affected by stress?

Next we’ll think about how resilience acts as a protector against stress.


Wondering how you could feel more confident, less stressed and ready for all the ups and downs ahead? Get in touch to have a chat with Anise and find out more about resilience coaching.

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