Internal vs. External Stressors

Why Type Of Stress Are You Dealing With?

What’s the last thing that you remember being stressed about? Was it an annoying coworker? Were you upset because you didn’t do as well as you thought you would on a test? Or maybe you’re worried about whether or not you’ll be able to pay your rent next month. Now, ask yourself this, was the stressor something caused by you or an outside force?

Stressors fall into one of two categories:

  1. Internal stressors
  2. External stressors

When you’re trying to reduce the amount of stress in your life, it’s important to make note of whether you’re dealing with internal stressors, external stressors, or maybe even both. Internal and external stressors tend to effect you differently, and need different approaches to be tamed.

Internal Stressors

An internal stressor comes from your personal goals, expectations, standards, perceptions, desires, etc. In other words, they come from within. For example, if you’re stressed out because you’re not where you thought you would be at this point in your life, that’s an internal stressor. It’s being caused by your perception of where you are in life, and your desires to either be further along or doing something else.

Internal stressors also determine how you cope and handle external stressors. That’s why people who are constantly complaining and being pessimistic don’t handle external stressors very well. Having a pessimistic view of life can contribute to A TON of health issues, that ironically enough are associated with stress too. When you’re internally stressed, even the slightest external stressor like being a couple of minutes late for a meeting might ruin your day.

A lot of times, internal stressors are self induced. Let’s use the example of being late. If I’m a perfectionist and put a ton of pressure on myself to always be on time wherever I go and never miss a beat, I’m going to have a constant need to meet that expectation that I SET FOR MYSELF. Nobody is telling me I have to be perfect, it’s something I’ve decided on my own.

Running Late Stress

So when I’m running 5 minutes behind to get to a meeting, that pressure intensifies and I get more and more stressed with every minute that goes by. Even if it’s not necessarily an important meeting, the internal stressor of needing to be on time eats away at me.

External Stressors

Most of you are already familiar with external stressors, particularly if you’ve been reading TSM. External stressors are forces from outside that stress you out. External stressors could be:

  • Your boss that always wants you to come in and work overtime on Saturday
  • Sitting in traffic
  • Problems in your relationship

A big difference between external and internal stressors is that you don’t have much control over your external stressors, because the source is more than likely out of your control. You’re not telling your boss to work you like a dog, you didn’t cause an accident on the highway that backed up traffic, and you didn’t do anything to…. well, maybe you played a part in your relationship problems. But for the most part, your external stressors aren’t directly under your control.

external stressors

You’ll have to deal with a lot more external stressors on a daily basis than internal ones. The internal stressors are kind of embedded into your mind and a part of your personality. The external ones pop up throughout your day and annoy the heck out of you. When I talk about different stress management techniques, they’re usually tips for dealing with the daily external stressors we all face every day.

There are different degrees of external stressors. Being stressed because you had to wake up early for work on Friday is a different type of stress than if you were to wreck your car in an accident, or if you lost your job. Also, external stressors can come from a wide variety of sources like your coworkers, family, your boss, children, or even complete strangers (this is where a lot of mine comes from).

These different factors affect how you react to the stressor, and how much of an effect they have on your life.

Dealing with internal and external Stressors

Since your internal stressors impact the way you deal with external stressors, it’s good to focus on those first. The hard part is that internal stressors require you to change the way you think about life and the way you view different events that you encounter. That’s easier said than done.

One of my favorite ways to manage internal stressors is to keep a positive state of mind. Maybe you feel bad about being overweight. Instead of stressing about the problem, focus on the solution. Think about what you need to do to lose that weight and start living a healthier lifestyle. Negative thoughts make for a negative life.

internal vs external stress management

As far as external stressors, you’ve already made the wisest decision ever by reading TSM :). Read through our 170 Stress Management Techniques, and browse the different Stress Hacks we’ve written about.

Even though you can’t directly control most external stressors, you can control how much they effect you and how you respond. For example, when you’re sitting in traffic for 40 minutes, you can either grind your teeth and get pissed, or you can turn on some music and use the time to think about what you’re going to cook for dinner and what you’re going to do tomorrow.

It takes time to be able to get really good at managing external stressors. Some people are naturally born with the “IDGAF” attitude and most external stressors don’t have much effect on them. But some people have an extremely low tolerance for stress and EVERYTHING seems to stress them out. It’s really important to identify your stressors so that you can start figuring out why they stress you out and how to deal with them.

Start thinking about what you’re stressed about right now.

  • If your stress is stemming from internal issues, it’s a sign that it’s time to start doing some soul searching and find out what’s really important to you.
  • If most of your stress is a result of external forces, start reading through my Stress Hacks and stress management tips.

Whatever you do, don’t let the stress go untreated and ignored.

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