11 Distinct Ways People Respond To Stress & Worry

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Do you have a big exam coming up? Perhaps an evaluation at work? Or maybe your child has a serious illness, or you are experiencing financial trouble. Whether big or small, events in our life can cause us stress and worry.

We all experience stress in our lives. It is inevitable. Sometimes stress can be temporary, and other times it sticks around for extended periods. Short-term stress can sometimes be a good thing. It can cause us to take decisive action and improve our circumstances. Long-term stress, however, is not healthy and can take a serious toll on our bodies over time.

We all react differently to stress, and no single reaction can be considered “normal.” The following is a list of reactions we might experience (often in various combinations) when we experience stress in our lives:

Emotional Reactions

Stress first impacts our minds, and the reaction is usually an emotional one. Such reactions can be positive or negative depending on the person and the actual event causing stress. Responses can range from sadness or anger to newfound determination and motivation.

1. Anxiety

For almost all stressors, anxiety is a common reaction. Whether the stressor is minor (a first date) or major (the loss of a job), everyone can expect to feel a little anxious under the circumstances. Anxiety is typically quite normal (although it, too, can get out of hand) and can affect people both positively and negatively.

2. Depression

People who experience stress from something major and beyond their control (such as the loss of a family member) may experience depression as a result of the stressor. They can fall into a victim mentality or have difficulty accepting the reality that confronts them. As a result, they gradually go deeper and deeper into sadness until it affects their entire life. Depression can be a serious mental illness that sometimes requires professional treatment.

3. Increased Positivity

Depending on the person and the amount and type of stress, the resultant emotional reaction may, in fact, be positive. More emotionally stable people respond to stress by increasing their focus and looking for solutions to the root problem. They remain positive and focus on how to remedy the stressful event. This reaction is more common in short-term stressors, but can also be found in some people no matter what happens to them. People can actually train themselves to remain positive and become action based when stressful circumstances pop up.

Behavioral Reactions

After our minds have experienced the emotional reactions, we typically follow up with a behavioral one. This is especially true if a person experiences chronic stress.

4. Addiction

Alcohol and cigarettes provide a temporary relief from stressful situations, so it can be common for those under stress to turn to these aids as a means of coping. Because these substances are highly addictive, it is also common for people to become hooked. It may start with cracking open a beer or lighting up after a stressful day, and develop and grow until it is impossible for the person to resist. Another common “fix” for those experiencing stress is sugars and unhealthy comfort foods.

5. Aggression

Some people react to stress with aggression. They may blame others for the stressful event, or they may just not know how to process the experience without anger. If you’ve ever seen someone punch through a wall or yell for no apparent reason, it is likely to be a reaction to stress of some sort. Aggression can be minor and temporary, or it can evolve into frequent volatile mood swings. People can be aggressive and abusive towards others, or may even cause harm to themselves as a result of this stress reaction.

6. Insomnia

Stress has a massive impact on your brain, and, as a result, it can be difficult to switch off at night. This makes insomnia a common occurrence among stressed people. When the lights are off, and people are alone in the quiet of the night, stress can cause their thoughts to spiral out of control far worse than during the day.

7. Inability To Stay Awake

While some people can’t seem to fall asleep, others may experience the exact opposite. Because their brains are working overtime due to all the stress and tension, they may have trouble staying awake, especially during the day.

8. Withdrawal

Self-esteem and confidence typically take a hit when someone is under stress for extended periods of time. They may no longer believe in their ability to cope with social situations, so they begin to shut down and isolate themselves.

Physical Responses

Not all responses to stress are behavioral. Stress can have a real effect on our bodies and show up as physical symptoms. Mind and body are often in tune with each other, so if the mind is suffering, the body will also suffer. Below are a few examples of tell-tale symptoms that someone is suffering from stress.

9. Headaches

It makes sense that a person with a lot of stress would get headaches. The brain is on constant high alert when experiencing stress. This can lead to tension and, subsequently, headaches and migraines.

10. Muscle Aches

When you are hit with stress, your muscles automatically tense up. Muscle tension is a typical reaction to stress because it is your body’s defense against injury. With chronic stress, however, the muscles remain tensed and can degrade or knot up over time, causing pain and decreased range of motion.

11. Bodily Damage

Almost any part of the body can be adversely affected by stress – both internal and external. From stomach issues to muscle problems, stress can cause it all. Stress can affect your vision or your ability to breathe naturally. It can affect your nervous system, your heart, and your reproductive system. Stress can even have irreversible effects on your body if the reaction to stress is ongoing or chronic. Stress can, in some instances, be fatal.

While not all stress is bad, long-term exposure to consistent stress can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies. It can change your entire life and affect the people around you, including those you love. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms (or a combination of them), you may be responding to stress. While stress is inevitable, you should be aware of your unique responses to stress and know when to take action to resolve it.

About The Author

Melissa Ricker is a nuclear engineer and a professional freelance writer specializing in career growth, technical writing and online entrepreneurship.