Stress Management versus Stressor Management

When it comes to stress, it’s better to prevent it from showing up at all than trying to manage it once it’s arrived. 

The reason most people end up experiencing chronic stress is that they miss an important distinction between stress and stressor.


Stressor is the label we give to a perceived present or future threat to our physical and/or emotional wellbeing. Stressors trigger our survival response. Activation of the survival response creates changes in our body that we sense and feel.

Examples of potential stressors

Provided you perceive these situations as threats they would all be classed as stressors:
- Your boss giving you negative feedback on your performance.
- A diagnosis from your doctor that you need a hip replacement.
- Having to plan, arrange, and coordinate a Christmas dinner for your family.
- Having a bully boss.
- Being in a toxic relationship.
- Having an unwell child.
- Moving house.


Stress is the label we give to the sensations we feel once our survival response is activated.

Stress management

You could describe stress management as the 'ambulance at the bottom of the hill'. 

You're already feeling stressed and stress management helps you feel less stressed. It doesn't address the source of your stress.

So, stress management involves reducing the intensity of the chronic stress we're experience and finding ways to cope on an ongoing basis with the remaining stress we're experiencing. Oft quoted coping skills include deep breathing, distraction, exercise, getting out into nature, finding social support.

Stressor management

"When you get good at managing your stressors you don’t need to do nearly as much stress management." ~ Nick Wignall clinical psychologist

It's possible to eliminate some (but not all) stressors or if you can't eliminate them change your perception of them. In this way you can stop the survival response being activated or reduce the intensity of its activation and hence the intensity of the stress you experience.
The ability to managing your stressors lies on a continuum from easy to impossible. For instance, stressor management may require you to:

deal with people (e.g. your bully boss) in an assertive and straightforward way. You may be naturally assertive when it comes to dealing with people and simply have to use your skill. However, you may not have the assertiveness skills (yet) to do this. 
acquire more resources, support or skills.
become healthier so you have more energy
create 'if-then' contingency plans. By mitigating the risk of a future stressor happening and/or reducing its impact if it happens will reduce the stress you feel in the present moment.

An exercise for you to try: Identify your existing stressors

Take 15-20 minutes and sit down with pen and paper and list out all things that are currently your stressors.

For each stressor, ask yourself these questions:

1. How could I creatively and assertively manage this stressor such that I no longer perceive it to be a threat in the first place? 

If for instance you have a bully boss, you could eliminate the threat they pose by getting a transfer to another department within your organization or by finding another job

2. If I can't eliminate the stressor how could I change it in some way so that I perceive it to be less of a threat?

If for instance if you perceive the responsibility of organizing the family Christmas dinner is too much for you, you could seek help from members of your family to lessen the pressure on you.

Would you like some help getting your stress or anxiety under control?

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