The Four 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.
Recommended by Dr. Hans Selye, father of the medical theory of stress, this book by Karl Albrecht pioneered the wave of business interest in stress management.
Common Stress Categories
Dr Albrecht defined four common types of stress:
- Time stress
- Anticipatory stress
- Situational stress
- 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.
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 for 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.
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.
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.
Learn to Manage Stress
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.
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.
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.