Understanding and Managing Stressors

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Of course, you've heard about stress and may have even experienced a good amount of it already today. But do you know what the difference is between "stress" and "stressors?" Stressors are situations that are experienced as a perceived threat to one’s well-being or position in life, especially if the challenge of dealing with it exceeds a person’s perceived available resources.

When one encounters stressors, the body’s stress response is triggered, and a series of physiological changes take place to allow the person to fight or run. If this sounds like stress, it's because sometimes when people talk about ‘stress’ in their life, they are really talking about stressors; stressors lead to the body’s stress response and the experience of stress. The important thing to remember, basically, is that stressors are the cause of stress.

What Situations Become Stressors?

What situations are stressors? That can vary from person to person. While some things tend to stress many people—job demands, relationship conflicts, a hectic schedule—not every potential stressor causes stress for everyone.

Each person has different stressors because each of us has a unique set of resources, understanding of the world, and way of perceiving things. What seems like a threat to one person may be perceived as a challenge to another.

Sometimes these differences can go unnoticed—it may not occur to you that a trip to the mall can be a stressor, but to someone who hates crowds and shopping, an afternoon at the mall can be a significant stressor. Even to someone who enjoys shopping, but has an introverted nature can become stressed by a long shopping trip that would be an enjoyable or even exhilarating experience for someone who is a strong extrovert. You may even be one of those people who hates crowds and comes home from a shopping trip not fully realizing why you feel stressed.

Other times, you can notice and even change whether something hits you as a stressor or as a simple experience in your day. You can choose to look at things differently, a technique that is known by psychologists as cognitive reappraisal, and you can empower yourself by becoming more aware of what you can control in the situation, and you can build up your resilience to stress so that fewer things are experienced as stressors. Or you can work to eliminate the stressors in your life that can be avoided.

Managing the Stressors In Your Life

While it would be impractical to eliminate all stress (and because certain types of stress, such as eustress, are actually good for you, you wouldn't want to, anyway), it is important to be able to minimize stressors in your life and deal with the stress that you do experience—what’s known as stress management.

An important first step is to begin thinking of stress as something that you can and should learn to manage, just as you'd take any other problem head-on. For now, here are some targeted resources for managing the stress from specific stressors:

  • Top Causes of Stress: Are you stressed by the same things that are stressors to most people? Here are some of the top causes of stress (and how to manage them).
  • Job Stress and How It Affects You: Certain job factors are significant stressors to most people. How does your job measure up and how can you manage the stress?
  • Relationship Stress: The Toll of Conflict: Conflict in a relationship is one of the heavier stressors people face in that conflict takes a bigger toll on us that most of the other stressors we face in life. Find out why, and what you can do to minimize the stress.
  • Managing the Stress of a Busy Life: Even a fun, busy life can be a stressor if it leaves you with too little time to take care of yourself. Here is why a busy life can be a stressor, and how you can manage this type of stress.

Begin managing your stressors today by identifying the things that cause you stress in "real time," that is, become aware of how you feel throughout the day by paying attention to your body as well as your mind. If there's something that you dread in your life, begin to think why, troubleshoot what you can, and develop habits to build resilience when you can't arrange things as you'd prefer them. Ultimately, any minimized stress is a good thing.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Oken BS, Chamine I, Wakeland W. A systems approach to stress, stressors and resilience in humans. Behav Brain Res. 2015;282:144-54. PMID:25549855

  2. Troy AS, Wilhelm FH, Shallcross AJ, Mauss IB. Seeing the silver lining: cognitive reappraisal ability moderates the relationship between stress and depressive symptoms. Emotion. 2010 Dec;10(6):783.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.