Stress is defined as an individual’s reaction to a situation that destabilizes their mental, physical, psychological, or emotional state (Bickerstaff, 2007). Stressful situations usually trigger certain responses in the body causing the release of certain hormones that enable individuals overcome tough situations. However, several factors are responsible for the differences observed in the manner in which individuals react to stressors. When individuals are exposed to a similar environmental stressor, some of them get sick while others do not. Factors that explain this disparity include differences in physiology, differences in methods or approaches of dealing with stress, perception, genetic factors, and personality differences (Bickerstaff, 2007).
Physiology is an important factor to consider when explaining the aforementioned phenomena. Some individuals are very sensitive and therefore, highly reactive to stress (Bickerstaff, 2007). On the other hand, some individuals are less sensitive and therefore, less reactive to stress. People have different levels of temperament that determines their levels of resilience when faced by environmental stressors. People with high levels of resilience are able to tackle stressing situations in ways that lower the levels of stress-related inflammatory levels in the body (Bickerstaff, 2007). Low levels of these hormones have little effect on the immune system. On the contrary, people with low resilience feel threatened by the stressor and thus unable to cope or deal with it. The environmental stressor then overwhelms and they succumb to illnesses. They over respond to the stressor and consequently increase the levels of stress-related inflammatory hormones in the body (Bickerstaff, 2007).
High levels of these hormones lower the body’s immunity thus exposing the individual to diseases.
People are usually grouped into two personality types. These include Type A and B. people with personality type A are usually risk takers, ambitious, time-conscious, highly motivated, and highly proactive. Research studies have established that if these character traits are not properly managed, they can lead to illnesses that emanate from stress (Bickerstaff, 2007). On the other hand, people with type B personality are usually more relaxed, open minded, and not as time-conscious as people with type A personality. Therefore, they are able to manage and cope with environmental stressors. They are less likely to get sick compared with people with type A personality.
Another factor that explains the phenomenon is perception. Different people perceive situations differently. For example, one may perceive the situation as a threat while the other may perceive it as a challenge. The individual who perceives it as a challenges develops mechanisms to deal with it while the other person becomes anxious and overwhelmed (Bickerstaff, 2007). In addition, perception is also affected by attitude. A positive attitude is empowering while a negative attitude is incapacitating.
Other factors that might explain why the two individuals react differently include genetic factors, personal sense of control, knowledge of the environmental stressor, and early nurturing (Bickerstaff, 2007). In addition, knowledge of the stressor is important in order to deal with it properly. Some people inherit genes that affect the ability to handle stress. For example, some people have less efficient relaxation responses that reduce their ability to deal with stress. These factors determine the length of the stressor. People who are stressed for extended periods are more likely to get ill that people who deal with the stressor and are thus stressed for a short time. Finally, past experiences with stressful events or situations can determine how individuals react to stress. An individual who has had stressful experiences in the past such as child abuse are more likely to fall ill compared to individuals who never had such experiences.
Bickerstaff, L. (2007). Stress. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group.