Albrecht's Four Types of Stress

Managing Common Pressures

Albrecht's Four Types of Stress - Managing Common Pressures

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Deal with four common types of stress.

Stress comes in many shapes and forms, and it affects people in different ways. But if you understand the most common types of stress, and know how to spot them, you can become better at managing any stresses you face.

This, in turn, can help you to work more productively and enjoyably, build better relationships, and live a healthier life overall.

In this article, we'll examine four common types of stress, and discuss how you can deal with each of them more effectively.

The Four Common Types of Stress

Dr Karl Albrecht, a management consultant and conference speaker based in California, is a pioneer in the development of stress-reduction training for businesspeople. He defined four common types of stress in his 1979 book, "Stress and the Manager." [1]

Albrecht's four common types of stress are:

  1. Time stress.
  2. Anticipatory stress.
  3. Situational stress.
  4. Encounter stress.

Let's look at each of these types of stress in detail, and discuss how you can identify and deal with each one.

1. Time Stress

You experience time stress when you worry about not doing things at the right time, or running out of time to complete all your tasks. Time stress can quickly make you feel unhappy, trapped, or even hopeless.

Common examples of time stress include worrying about key deadlines, rushing to avoid being late for a meeting, or looking at a list of jobs that's unmanageable in the time you've got.

Managing Time Stress

First, learn good time-management skills. This can include using to-do lists or, if you have to manage many simultaneous projects, action programs.

Next, make sure that you're devoting enough time to your top priorities. It's easy to get caught up in seemingly urgent tasks that actually have little impact on your overall objectives. This can leave you exhausted, or with the feeling that you've worked a full day without accomplishing anything meaningful.

Your important tasks are usually the ones that will help you to reach your goals. Working on these projects is a better use of your time. Our article on Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle explains how to balance urgent and important tasks. And our article on prioritization helps you to separate tasks that you need to focus on from those that you can safely put off.

If you often feel that you don't have enough time to complete all of your tasks, learn how to create more time in your day. This might mean starting early or working later in the day, so that you have quiet time to focus.

You should also use your peak working time to concentrate on your most important tasks. Because you're working more efficiently, this allows you to do more with the time you have. Our article, Is This a Morning Task, shows you how to prioritize your tasks and schedule them during your most productive times of day. You can leave less important tasks, like checking email, for times when your energy levels drop.

Also, make sure that you're polite but assertive about saying "no" to tasks that you don't have the capacity to do.

2. Anticipatory Stress

Anticipatory stress describes stress that you experience concerning the future. Sometimes this stress can be focused on a specific event, such as an upcoming presentation. However, anticipatory stress can also be vague and undefined, such as an overall sense of dread about the future, or a worry that "something will go wrong."

Managing Anticipatory Stress

Because anticipatory stress is future based, start by recognizing that the event you're dreading doesn't have to play out as you imagine. Use positive visualization techniques to imagine the situation going right.

Research shows that repeatedly visualizing an event can have a similar impact on your brain as experiencing it for real. [2]

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Other techniques – like meditation – will help you to concentrate on what's happening right now, rather than on an imagined future. Consider setting aside time daily – even if it's only five minutes – to meditate.

Anticipatory stress can stem from a lack of confidence. For example, you might be stressing over a presentation that you're giving next week, because you're afraid that you'll falter under pressure. Often, addressing these personal fears directly will lower your stress. In this example, if you practiced more, and prepared for tough questions, you'd likely feel better prepared for the event.

Last, learn how to overcome a fear of failure. By making contingency plans, and analyzing all of the possible outcomes, you'll get a clearer idea of what could happen in the future. This can diminish your fear of failure and give you a greater sense of control.

3. Situational Stress

You experience situational stress when you're in a difficult situation that you have no control over. This could be an emergency. However, it's more commonly a situation that involves conflict, or a loss of status or acceptance in the eyes of your group. Getting laid off or making a major mistake in front of your team are examples of events that can cause situational stress.

Managing Situational Stress

You can learn to be more self-aware. This starts with recognizing the "automatic" physical and emotional signals that your body sends out when you're under pressure.

For example, imagine that the meeting you're in suddenly dissolves into a shouting match between team members. Your automatic response may be to feel a surge of anxiety. Your stomach knots and feels bloated. You withdraw into yourself and, if someone asks for your input, you have a difficult time knowing what to say.

By noticing your natural responses, you can take steps to manage them. See our article on physical relaxation techniques for ways to regain some calmness and control in stressful moments.

Conflict is a major source of situational stress. Learn effective conflict resolution skills, so that you're well prepared to handle the stress of conflict when it arises. It's also important to learn how to manage conflict in meetings, since resolving group conflict can be different from resolving individual issues.

Everyone reacts to situational stress differently. It's essential that you understand both the physical and emotional symptoms of this stress – and how they tend to affect you personally – so that you can manage them appropriately.

For instance, if your natural tendency is to withdraw emotionally, learn how to think on your feet and communicate better during these situations. Or if your natural response is to get angry and shout, then learn how to manage your emotions.

4. Encounter Stress

Encounter stress revolves around people. You experience encounter stress when you worry about interacting with a certain person or group of people. You may not like them, find them difficult to communicate with, or worry that they're unpredictable.

Encounter stress can also occur if your role involves a lot of personal interactions with customers or clients, especially if those groups are in distress. For instance, physicians and social workers are particularly likely to experience encounter stress, because the people they work with routinely don't feel well, or are deeply upset.

This type of stress also occurs from "contact overload": when you feel overwhelmed or drained from interacting with too many people.

Managing Encounter Stress

Because encounter stress is focused entirely on people, you'll manage this type of stress better by working on your people skills.

To find out how good your people skills are right now, take our quiz. This will also show you any areas that you need to develop.

A good place to start is to develop greater emotional intelligence. This is the ability to know your own emotions, wants and needs, and to understand those of others. It's a crucial skill for working in teams, and for building good relationships in all areas of your life.

Empathy is a particularly valuable attribute here. It allows you to view situations from other people's perspectives, helping you to communicate and deal with them appropriately.

You also need to know when you're about to reach your limit for interactions on a given day. Common symptoms of this include withdrawing psychologically from others, working mechanically, or simply becoming cranky. When these occur, do whatever you can to take a break. Go for a walk, drink water, and practice deep breathing exercises.


Crankiness and remoteness can also be symptoms of burnout. If you're an enthusiastic, hard-working, committed person, make sure that you monitor yourself for this, and that you take action to avoid it.


Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, death. While these stress-management techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on reducing stress, they are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over stress-related illnesses, or if stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness. Health professionals should also be consulted before any major change in diet or levels of exercise.

Key Points

Dr Karl Albrecht published his model of the four most common types of stress in his 1979 book, "Stress and the Manager." These are:

  1. Time stress.
  2. Anticipatory stress.
  3. Situational stress.
  4. Encounter stress.

When you can recognize the type of stress you're experiencing, you can take steps to manage it more effectively.

Everyone experiences different physical and emotional symptoms of stress, so it's important to find the right responses for you.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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