Stress generally occurs when you are trying to think about and process more things than you have the capacity for. It is easy to think that ‘stress is stress’ but there are various types of stress and each should be managed differently.
Dr Karl Albrecht is an authority on stress with his 1979 book, “Stress and the Manager” considered a landmark text. He covers the basic definition and how it affects the body and also defines four common types and how to manage them.
Albrecht’s four common types of stress are:
With a prevalence of deadlines and demand for instant responses, time is the most common type of stress. When you worry about time or the lack of time, you experience time stress. You worry about all the things that you have to do and the lack of time to do them, creating a real fear that you won’t complete some or all of the tasks which in turn generates additional real and imagined issues.
The best way to manage or remove time stress is to ensure that you are working well within the time deadlines. Allocate more than ample time for each task on your to-do list and prioritise to focus on the important tasks and leave those you can safely put off. There is a common view that single-tasking is more efficient than multi-tasking and that you should concentrate on the most important tasks first (as per the Urgent/Important framework) and/or according to when you are at your best in the day.
I’m a morning person, so for me, the first few hours of the day are critical for knocking off the urgent tasks and I leave the less important tasks such as checking email until later in the day when my energy levels are down. I try to remove as many things to worry about as I can so that I remove time stress.
As it suggests encounter stress occurs when you are worrying about interacting with a group of people where there are outcomes that are either unpredictable or predictably unpleasant. The “encounter” can easily drain or overwhelm you especially when you have lots of these personal interactions and situations.
The best way to manage or remove it is either through limiting or removing the cause (the people) or by improving your interpersonal skills so that you remain confident and in control when dealing with them. People with high emotional intelligence generally have lower encounter stress because they are better able to interact with others and can build good relationships.
Anticipatory stress occurs when you are worried about the future, either in a general sense or more usually around a specific event such as an unpleasant meeting or conversation. The general sense is usually vague and undefined often in the guise of a big black cloud with an overall sense that something will go wrong.
The best way to manage or remove it is through thorough preparation (be prepared, don’t be scared) and/or by using visualisation techniques – picturing the day ahead and how it will likely pan out. There may be several possible scenarios and picturing these helps create some certainty and confidence that you have all the bases covered. You will feel more confident and in control and as a result less stressed.
In my experience situational stress is the hardest type to control because you’re often caught unawares and in an unexpected situation where you feel a threat to your security, status or ego. Adrenalin, one of the body’s stress hormones, often kicks in and floods the body, preparing you for “fight or flight” and in the process, it dismantles your high-level executive thinking and sense of control. Often you will react emotionally as your mind has prepared you to do, which can be at best, embarrassing, and at the worst, dangerous depending on the situation and the other people involved.
The best way to manage or remove this is by understanding the “automatic” physical and emotional signals that your body sends out when you’re under pressure and then using a “circuit breaker” to diffuse or divert your emotional reaction. This is different for different people and can be a phase or an action or another response. It takes time to find and to practice the most appropriate circuit breaker but its well worth it.
Another dangerous kind not covered by Dr Albrecht’s types of stress is the longer-term effect caused by an imbalance of Cortisol. Christopher Bergland’s article in ‘Psychology Today’ is definitely worth reading.
Everyone reacts differently and you will find the best ways to manage the different types are through trial and error. One of the proven benefits of being mentally tough is that it improves your ability to manage the various types of stress and certainly using the MTQ48 4C’s framework can reduce or eliminate Albrecht’s four types of stress.