Responses to stressors vary with individuals. Furthermore, responses to stressors vary even further in individuals subjected to trauma. To further complicate the issue, not all people exposed to traumatic stressors will develop an identifiable Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Yehuda et al, 2007). Therefore response to stress is a complicated equation involving neurological substrates, interpretation of trauma, cultural and ethnic variables and degree of resilience (International Journal of Psychology, 2012). War, natural and human-made disaster, illness and work can all fall under the headings of chronic or acute stressors that can impair one’s quality of life. Each of these topics is a volume in itself, but there are some common issues and techniques that can be applied (APA, 2013).

Keeping in mind that stressors, by their very nature, can interrupt memory encoding, cause fear of social situations and elevate levels of anxiety and depression, the best interventions help strengthen the individual to increase resilience and tolerate distress, even if only temporarily.

Common responses to stressors:
Unexpected or intolerable feelings: depression, anxiety, irritability and obsessive thoughts are often experienced by people in stressful situations, and may eclipse the stressor to become the focus of others’ responses to them.

Sleep and appetite disturbance: common symptoms of depression and anxiety, the need for excessive sleep and food, or the decrease in these, can prepare us for the fight-or-flight response which has evolved as a response to stressors in the environment.

Physical illness: whether as a result of a poorly-maintained body or a psychosomatic dynamic, illness causes a breakdown in functioning and might create new and even worse stressors.

Isolation: depression can cause us to shut ourselves away from the world and withdraw from social contact. Fear and a sense of being intolerably burdened can do the same. One need not lock oneself in a room to withdraw, it is equally common to lose touch with even our closest friends, keep secrets, internalize all feelings, and keep the people who love us and can provide reality testing at arm’s length.

Tips for coping with stressors:
Distress tolerance: this is not an avoidance of stressors completely, but a reprieve. Create a distress tolerance tool kit which can include favorite or relaxing music, notecards and stationery for writing to people (increasing social contact), scented candles, a soft blanket, or any item that provides comfort and distracts from the stressors.

Mindfulness: meditation, or even a few mindful exercises (Kabat-Zinn, 2005), can return our focus to the here and now. Learning to turn off the shouting voices of stress, we can find a calm center in which to dwell for a short time, thereby decreasing the harmful effects of stress by lowering the overall levels of adrenaline and cortisol and restoring a sense of peace and well-being.

Gratitude: keeping a gratitude journal allows us to stop and focus on something pleasurable in our lives, increasing the neural connections to this idea and reminding us that there is more to be glad for in life than the tunnel vision of stress allows us to see if we live with it daily.Therapy: a number of therapeutic techniques are effective, and even the very act of seeking therapy for psychological distress connects us with at least one other person and enables us to regain perspective and find new resources for coping. Stressors will happen to us, regardless of our resilience and coping strategies. We can overcome them by recognizing their presence and effects on our lives, and taking steps to keep them in perspective.

APA. (2013, August).Recovering emotionally from disaster. Retrieved from

International Journal of Psychology (2012) Special Issue: XXX International Congress of PsychologyVolume 47, Issue Supplement S1, pp. 769–787.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. Hyperion.

Yehuda, Rachel et al. (2007). Response Variation following Trauma: A Translational Neuroscience Approach to Understanding PTSDNeuron , Volume 56 , Issue 1 , 19 – 32

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