The Two Primary Ways to Respond to Stress (and How to Deal With Yours)

In times of stress, people tend to react in one of two ways : either by over-functioning or by activating maximum speed to solve all problems; or due to insufficient work and freezing to such an extent that they cannot cope with what is happening. None of these answers are perfect, as the over-functionaler is prone to burnout, while the inferior employee often struggles to cope with even minor obstacles.

And when both insufficient and excessive functionality respond to the same stressful situation, it can cause intense tension in the relationship. If one person processes all the details while the other person is frozen, it threatens to create a dynamic in which one person begins to resent doing all the work, while the other person feels excluded from the process.

Both over-functioning and under-functioning in response to stress can cause problems.

As Amanda White , founder and clinical director of the Women’s Therapy Center in Philadelphia, recently told Shape :

“Over-functionalists are more likely to be parents, guardians, or bosses because they are responsible for them in terms of responsibility. They are also more likely to be perfectionists and struggle to ask for help or set boundaries. If you think of it in the context of a team project, super-functionalists are people who lead the team and often end up doing most of the project themselves because they don’t trust others. Underworked people tolerate this behavior because they are happy to sit back and let someone else do most of the work. ”

As White also points out, although the instinct of a non-working person is to avoid taking action to alleviate a stressful situation, the more they do that, the more anxious they become. If the over-functioner does all the work for him, the resulting dynamics can be equally unhealthy for the over-functioner as well as the under-functioning.

How to deal with your stress response

If you find yourself falling into one of these patterns in response to stress, you can use the following five strategies .

Pay attention to your triggers

The first step to stress management is to identify triggers . Triggers can be both internal and external. Some external triggers include major life changes, factors in your environment, unpredictable events, workplace problems, social problems, and traumatic events. Internal triggers can be your fears, feelings of insecurity and indecision, as well as a lack of control over the situation, as well as managing your own expectations.


Breathing exercises can help your body relax , even if you are not healthy at all. Plus, they don’t take up a lot of your day, which means they can be a quick technique to help you release stress during particularly stressful times.

You can try several different breathing exercises . The most basic exercise is belly breathing, where you either sit down or lie flat, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, allowing your belly to move in and out while your chest remains still.

Test Self-Compassion

Self- compassion is showing self- compassion , which can be especially important when you are under stress. While you may not always have control over your stressors, you can learn to acknowledge what is happening, recognize your emotional response to it, and find a way to deal with the situation that gives you what you need – without resorting to self-blame or self-blame. blame. When life gets stressful, piling up self-accusations or self-accusations will only make things worse.

Reset your expectations

Sometimes changing your expectations is enough to reduce stress. If you worry too much about every little thing, reevaluate what you are doing to determine what is absolutely necessary and what can be changed or eliminated. Deadlines can be shifted, projects can be changed, and less important priorities can often be eliminated or delegated.

Chat with others

We all crave connection. This is what makes us human. When you’re under stress, connecting with the right people can be a way to ground yourself as well as realign stressors. For disabled people, companionship can help them build resilience and help them function even in the face of stress. For overly functional people, interacting with people can help ground them by offering a little peace of mind, even when their instincts are struggling.

Whatever your reaction to stress, it is important to find a balance between doing too much or too little, because that will only make the situation worse.


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