Why do people react differently to stress?

Dr. Kathleen Hall
Preventive Medicine
Everyone responds to stress differently because of past experiences and because we are each a product of our gene pool and how our ancestors handled stress. I believe that we must have great flexibility with individuals to discover what their particular stressors are and how they react to them. Rachel Yehuda, Ph.D., of Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York says, "Stress management is no one-size-fits-all way to reduce stress. Study upon study has shown that simple relaxation does not work in many people. Telling someone who has been sensitized to stress to just relax is like telling an insomniac to just fall asleep."
A Life in Balance: Nourishing the Four Roots of True Happiness

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A Life in Balance: Nourishing the Four Roots of True Happiness

Nautilus Book Awards Winners for 2007 (category: Self-Help/Psychology/ Personal Growth) "Like many people, Kathleen Hall found that despite great success and material wealth, she had yet to identify...

Different people react differently to stress, well... because they are different! We have differences in:

  • personality, intelligence and emotional intelligence
  • stress tolerance (what used to be referred to as "constitution")
  • self-care and wellness
  • responsibilities and choices
  • beliefs about ourselves, others, the world, the Universe (God)
  • culture, experience and learning

These differences impact how we come to value the situations and experiences we come into contact with in our lives. For example, let's say you grew up in a chaotic household, had low self-esteem, an introverted nature, experienced uncertainty and unpredictability, and you learned that anticipating and meeting other people's needs kept you out of trouble (for the most part). As an adult, you might develop into someone who believes that they need to control their lives and the lives of others around them to a high degree in order to avoid feeling rejection, anxiety and panic. But through the course of your daily life, you come into resistance from others who don't want their lives controlled or you experience situations where you yourself cannot exert control. Then you begin to feel anxious, panicky and depressed.

I often say to my clients who suffer from stress, anxiety and panic disorder that they "come by it honestly." By that I mean, based on their situations, characteristics and experiences, how could they not feel what they feel? It's not as if they cannot change but we need to understand what influences their way of dealing with stress that is making them not feel or function as they think they ought.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), I blend together the concepts of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Developmental Psychology, Humanistic Theory and Mindfulness Philosophy to help people identify what is at the root of their distress and develop interventions that address those causes (usually ineffective thinking and/or behaving) and effect positive change in mood and behavior.

Changing old habits of thinking and behaving can be difficult and can take time. I caution clients to be patient with themselves and not to judge their attempts at change. With or without a professional counselor or therapist as your guide, you can develop better, more effective ways to function and feel.

William B. Salt II., MD
Exposed to the same trigger/stressor, people vary remarkably in their stress response. For example, for some women, menstruation is an internal stressor that produces a dramatic and powerful stress response in their mind, body and spirit. For other women, the same stressor/trigger hardly produces any bodily or emotional response at all.

Another example is that most -- but not all -- people find that public speaking is very stressful, even just the thought or anticipation of it. There are two factors that account for this variability of the stress response -- the way a person perceives a situation and a person's general state of physical health. Thus, your mind/brain may or may not consider public speaking to be a potential threat to your homeostasis, so the stress response may or may not be activated. If your general health is good, you will be more likely to tolerate your stress response than if you are in poor health. Your physical health is also affected by heredity (irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), heart disease or high blood pressure in the family), your lifestyle choices (smoking, underexercising, eating a high fat diet), your psychological choices (unresolved anger, excessive worry) and your spiritual choices (sense of meaning or purpose in life, connection to a higher power). Your physical condition and how well you care for yourself play a critical role in influencing your stress response.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the MindBodySpirit Connection: 7 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functional Bowel Disorder, Crohn's Disease, or Colitis (Mind-Body-Spirit Connection Series.)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.