Stress is the body’s normal response to threats. Yet, while it affects everyone in at least one way, not all forms of stress are the same – or even healthy. For professionals in positions associated with high levels of stress, it’s especially important to recognize the differences among the ways in which the body experiences stress.
There are three main types of stress, each of which elicits a unique response in the body:
The demands of the near future and recent past cause acute stress, the most common form of stress. Work deadlines, exhilarating experiences, and short-term dilemmas can all cause acute stress. This form of stress is fleeting and does not have the potential to do long-term physical damage. In fact, acute stress can actually be considered “good” stress, because it helps executives and professionals perform better in challenging scenarios. Whether it is preparing for an important meeting or thinking quickly to rectify an unexpected issue, the body responds to perceived threats with quicker breathing and pulse, allowing you to use more oxygen and increase activity to perform better. The danger to your health and work performance does not occur until acute stress becomes chronic stress, which is discussed below.
Individuals who always seem to be “on the edge of their seats,” often labeled as “Type A” personalities, are most likely to have episodic acute stress. While these individuals often embody characteristics that help them excel in the workplace, including the ability to multitask well and a sense of competitiveness that can lead to goal completion, they also face a tremendous amount of stress because they juggle many responsibilities and are pressured by time constraints. Cardiologists have concluded that these individuals are much more likely to have heart disease and high blood pressure than others, and face difficulties in organizing self-inflicted demands and pressures. Because these barriers to health can negatively impact work performance, individuals facing episodic acute stress must find ways to manage their stressors in a healthy way to ensure long-term wellness.
By nature, stress is supposed to be temporary. Once the body recovers from fight or flight mode, you should be able to recover physically: your heart rate should return to normal and muscles should relax. Yet, chronic stress occurs even when real, physical danger is not present. It happens when a person is never able to escape their causes of stress but stops seeking solutions. Sometimes, it may be caused by a traumatic experience. While people can become used to and even comfortable with chronic stress, its effects are long-lasting and detrimental to health. Chronic stress is the most harmful type of stress and can have a number of effects on your body, mood, and behavior. If action is not taken, this form of stress can create or worsen health problems, including limited concentration, inhibited sleep, and problems with personal relationships – all of which can eventually lead to energy depletion and poor performance in the workplace.
Our fight or flight response is influenced by both external and internal factors. While both types can produce similar effects, they can also both be addressed and managed effectively. Understanding the differences between these two sources can help pinpoint your greatest sources of stress.
As their name suggests, internal stressors come from within. These stressors stem from an individual’s perception of themselves compared to where they think they should be in life. Internal stressors play a role in one’s ability to handle external sources of stress, which is why it becomes critically important to address any internal stressors, if present, first. Common internal stress factors include:
Common external stress factors include:
Unfortunately, this tends to be a common feeling among individuals holding demanding jobs or maintaining positions of power in the workplace. Because the stress associated with high-power positions is unavoidable for most career-oriented professionals, the solution for managing chronic stress lies in first addressing its effects. By overcoming fatigue, for instance, professionals can become sharper and more alert, and ultimately, more engaged and focused at work. Likewise, tackling many of the additional challenges that tend to accompany aging, such as cognitive impairment and weight gain, can also create a healthier individual who is better able to manage the stress of their career.
Ultimately, stress is different for each individual, and the factors which may elicit a response in one person may not affect another. Regardless of the stressor, however, chronic stress can produce a number of unfavorable symptoms in those who suffer from it. Thus, addressing its effects proactively – before they escalate and cause irreversible career or relationship damage – is critical for people who face chronic stress.
Stress can affect people in various ways, but for professionals dealing with high levels of stress, it is especially important to recognize the type of stress you are undergoing and the effect it can have on your body. All types of stress, if not managed, are all capable of increasing your risk for health problems and tarnishing long-term wellness.
Our fight or flight response is influenced by both external stressors and internal stressors. Internal stressors stem from an individual’s perception of themselves, and it is important to address them first to be able to handle any external stress factors. External stressors include job-related stress, family problems, relationship issues, etc. If such effects are left unmanaged, there is potential for unfavorable symptoms and health-related consequences of chronic stress.
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This guide was produced with contributions from the following key resources:
 Tirado, Bernando, PMP. “Working With a Type A Personality.” Psychology Today. 30 Jan. 2012. Retrieved from URL: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/digital-leaders/201201/working-type-personality