Individual factors in the stress response

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Our reaction to stressors is heavily based on our individual makeup. Two people can react very differently to the same stressor. Our reactions depend on a number of factors.

Individual factors in the stress response

  • Personality Traits
  • Background
  • Attitudes
  • Self-image
  • Locus of control
  • Social networks

Personality Traits

One of the characteristics that is associated with a high level of stress is the type-A personality (Friedman & Rosemann, 1974 as cited in Payne, 2005). The type-A personality profile was developed to identify risk-factors for coronary heart disease.

Type-A personality

  • Strong commitment to their job (European agency safety and health at work, 2000)
  • Competitive (Payne, 2005)
  • Achievement-oriented (Payne, 2005)
  • Anger and hostility (European agency safety and health at work, 2000)
  • Need to control external events (Glass & Singer, 1972 as cited in European agency safety and health at work, 2000)

Assertiveness Another personality trait which is associated with stress is a person’s assertiveness or lack of assertiveness. When a person lacks assertiveness, they are likely to allow external parties to make choices for them which they may not be happy with. This lack of self-respect, causes a frequent gap between what is desired and what occurs and may be a significant contributor to stress (Mayo clinic, 2007).

Individual Background

The background of the individual is thought to have an impact on the way in which they cope with stress. Some background-related factors include

  • Genetic factors
  • Childhood relationships
  • Cultural values & heritage
  • Family values
  • Past experiences & trauma
  • Physical & mental health


"The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your ATTITUDE!" (Dennis S. Brown as cited in Attitude Quotes, 2008)

An attitude is a habitual way of relating to a set of events in your life. Like any habit the older it is and the more frequently it is enforced the more it dominates your experience.

Positive thinking

Probably the most widely recognised example of a stress-forming attitude is the cup-half-empty/ cup-half-full phenomena. Given most situations, one person will look at what has happened and see the bad, whereas another person will look at that same situation and see the good. Having a positive attitude is associated with experiencing less stress in your life.


Perfectionists are typically high achievers with high expectations and ideals. These expectations are often applied to others as well as themselves, and as a result perfectionists often find the work of other people to be lacking. This may lead them to feel that “if you want a job done properly you should do it yourself”. This attitude is associated with higher levels of stress (Wirtz, Elsenbruch, Emini, Rüdisüli, Groessbauer, & Ehlert, 2007).

The yes man

Many people find it difficult to say no, even when they are agreeing to obligations that they do not have time for. This is a sure recipe for stress. Yes people need to learn what they can realistically cope with, and they also need to learn how to say no.


Four aspects of an individual’s self image contribute to one’s ability to deal with stress.

  • Self-concept – the sum total of a being’s knowledge and understanding of his or her self.
  • Self-esteem – The level of respect and love that an individual has for themself.
  • Self-actualisation – The desire to realise one’s full potential or to maximise one’s capabilities.
  • Self-effiacy – The perceived capability to handle problems and overcome hardship.

The most significant factor of the four is self-effiacy. If you look at problems as an opportunity to overcome adversity and to gain new experience, then you will experience minimal stress.

However self-effiacy is built on a base of self-concept, self-esteem and self-actualisation. If you aren’t aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and if you don’t have the desire to push yourself, then you are unlikely to be able to achieve your goals.

Locus of control

The idea of a locus of control relates to the degree of control that an individual perceives that they have over their environment (Rotter, 1966 as cited in Payne, 2005). If the individual believes that they have control and choice in their life they are said to have an internal locus of control. If they believe that others are in control of their life then they are said to have an external locus of control.

Perceived control is related to stress (European agency safety and health at work, 2000). If an individual has an external locus of control, they are more likely to become stressed.

Social networks

There is plenty of research showing that people with good supportive social networks are happier, healthier and more able to cope with stress (Simon, 2007)

A study of nearly 3,000 Dutch people between the ages of 55 and 85 found that high and even moderate amounts of emotional support cut the risk of dying prematurely in half (Penninx, van Tilburg, Kriegsman, Deeg, Boeke, & van Eijk, 1997).

Additional Learning Resources


  • Attitude quotes (2008). Retrieved July 22, 2008 from
  • European agency for safety and health at work (2000). Research on work-related stress. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Retrieved July 22, 2008 from
  • Mayo Clinic (2007). Being assertive: Reduce stress and communicate better through assertiveness. Retrieved July 22, 2008 from
  • Payne, R. (2005). Relaxation Techniques – A Practical Handbook for the Health Care Professional (3rd ed.). New York: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Penninx, B., van Tilburg, T., Kriegsman, D., Deeg, D., Boeke, A., & van Eijk, J. (1997). Effects of social support and personal coping resources on mortality in older age: The longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam. American Journal of Epidemiology. 146: 510-519.
  • Simon, H. (2007). Stress – risk factors. Retrieved July 22, 2008 from
  • Wirtz, P., Elsenbruch, S., Emini, L., Rüdisüli, K., Groessbauer, S. & Ehlert, U. (2007). Perfectionism and the cortisol response to psychosocial stress in men. Psychosomatic Medicine. 69. P. 249-255.