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Stress Management for Health Course

Stress Hardiness


"You can't always influence what others may say or do to you but you can influence how you react and respond to it." (Unknown)


Research has shown that some people are more resistant to stress and better able to cope with it than others.  This is partly due to the fact that some people have a number of personality traits that protect them from the effects of stress; psychologists call this the stress-hardy personality. 

One researcher in the stress hardiness field is clinical psychologist at the City University, New York, Doctor Susan Kobasa PhD.  In the late 1970s she carried out a study on a group of executives who were under a lot of stress whilst their company, the Bell Telephone Company in the USA, was undergoing radical restructuring.  On completion of the study, when the data was analysed, she found that certain personality traits protected some of the executives and managers from the health ravages of stress. 

These stress hardy personality traits included:


1.          Commitment

2.          Control

3.          Challenge


The executives who had these stress hardy personality traits decreased their risk of developing a stress related health problem by a massive 50%.   

Stress hardy people obviously have a natural advantage than those of us who do not have these personality traits; however research is suggesting that those of us who do not naturally have the stress hardy personality traits can actually learn them, with time and practice, and so increase our own levels of stress hardiness.  Having a stress hardy personality doesn't mean that a person never ever suffers stress, it means that their ability to deal with it, without it causing a problem, is greater.  It's about learning to control how we react to the challenges we face in a more flexible, confident and less destructive way.


We will now discuss in more detail the Stress Hardy personality traits:


1.     Commitment

Commitment means having a purpose to life and involvement in family, work, community, social, friends, religious faith, ourselves, etc., giving us a meaning to our lives.  When we have this commitment to something or someone that is important to us, this gives our life a purpose.  When committed to something we tend to be motivated to put in more effort.  This can help us to find a goodness and meaning to our lives. 


2.     Control

Studies have shown that how much control we perceive we have over any stressor will influence how difficult the stressor will be for us to cope with.  Researchers have found there are basically two types of control, Internal and External, and these can either exacerbate or reduce a stressful situation. 

Internal Locus of Control

With the internal locus of control people are aware that they cannot influence all the external events that go on in their lives, but they do have a deep sense that they have a choice in how they react to that stressor and believe that although they cannot totally influence it, they do have some influence over the event. 

External Locus of Control 

In the external locus of control people believe that they have little or no control over what happens to them; what happens is due to fate or destiny and that they will not be able to influence it.  For example, someone who suffers a chronic back problem may believe it is their destiny and fate in life to suffer the pain.  They may believe there is nothing they can do to influence their condition and the subsequent pain, so therefore they do not take any action, nor use any strategies that could enable them to reduce their pain.


In life it is impossible to remove all the pressure and stress that we will encounter, but that doesn't mean we are impotent in the face of it.  By learning stress Management strategies we can influence how these events affect us, even though we cannot remove them.  For example, in one study researchers looked at two groups of people who were under stress.  One group practiced relaxation regularly and the other group did not.  The research data revealed that, although both groups had higher levels of stress hormones, the group that practiced relaxation showed less effects of these stress hormones on their organs and systems when compared to the group who did not practice relaxation.

We do have some degree of control over how stressors affect us.  The late Dr Viktor Frankyl, a psychiatrist who was a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, said the one thing that you can not take away from a person is their choice of how they deal with the difficult situations which they find themselves in.

In managing our stress its important to recognise where our locus of control is and with time, stress management training and practice we can move from an external locus of control to a more internal locus of control and in so doing improve our coping abilities.


3.     Challenge

Challenge is about how we perceive the events that occur in our lives; seeing our difficulties as a challenge rather than as a threat and accepting that the only thing in life that is constant, is change.  There is an Old Russian proverb that says we can never put our foot in the same river water twice.  If we view change as a total threat or see every difficulty we encounter as threatening to us then this is going to trigger a stronger fight/flight response than if we see the event as a challenge.  Stress hardy people do not spend time ruminating over why things have to change, they are not frightened by it, they accept it as being a natural part of life, not a threat but an opportunity to learn and grow.

Click here to be taken to Explanatory Style - Optimism/Pessimism