Photo by Jake Pierrelie on Unsplash

When nothing seems to offset your stress, there are other steps you can take. Source: Photo by Jake Pierrelie on Unsplash

By nature, everybody has a predominant style of coping with stress. Some people have a self-defeating approach that raises rather than lowers their stress needle. Stress vigilantes go overboard in their attempts to control job stress. They have difficulty backing off or letting go. At the other extreme, stress avoiders have trouble stepping up to the plate and facing their stressors. Understanding your stress coping style can help you pinpoint habits you can change to beef up your stress resilience.

Stress Vigilantes

Forethought, preparation, and planning are qualities that arm you with good stress prevention strategies. But if you go too far, you might fall into the category of stress vigilantes—people who go overboard, overreacting to the possibilities of stress. If you’re a stress vigilante, you attack stress with all guns blazing, anticipating and controlling situations. In trying to preempt stress, you actually create more of it with your extreme approach. Examples of stress vigilantes are the control freak, the crisis junkie, the perfectionist, the careaholic, and the worrywart.

If you’re the control freak, you have trouble sharing the load or working as a team. You think no one can do the job as well as you and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. You tend to over plan and over organize so conditions are predictable and controllable. When you overload, overwhelm and isolate yourself, it dampens your spontaneity, creativity, and flexibility.

The crisis junkie is impatient and in a hurry to get tasks completed because nothing moves fast enough. Your impatience creates more stress and more crises. The more tasks you can cross off your list, the better you feel. Your preference to multitask gets your adrenaline flowing and creates a false sense of accomplishment. Your snap decisions cause you to make avoidable mistakes.

If you’re the perfectionist, you have standards for yourself and others that are unattainable. You judge yourself and others unmercifully, trying to cover all the bases and get it right. Your stress level goes through the roof from the inhuman burdens you place on yourself.

If you’re a careaholic, you’re on a mission to rescue people, even if they don’t need it. Overloading yourself with other people’s problems is a distraction from your own. While being in service to others, your world is crumbling under your feet. And your risk for compassion burnout escalates. The job you’ve neglected is to take care of yourself first before taking on the burdens of others. article continues after advertisement

If you’re a worrywart, you’re an excessive worrier. Although most of what plagues you never happens, you go through the stress of it anyway risking physical illness. Constant worry is an attempt to predict the future and prepare for an unknown outcome. Instead of preparing you for the future, worry undermines your confidence, well-being, and preparation.

Stress Avoiders

Sometimes avoidance is a good strategy to manage stress. But for situations that require attention, too much job avoidance creates more stress. If you’re a stress avoider, stalling, delaying or retreating might seem like the best way to cope with stress. But in the extreme, this self-defeating style gives stress a free pass to stampede your life. Examples of stress avoiders are the procrastinator, the appeaser, the sad-sack, and the slacker.

The procrastinator puts off preparing for stressful events because procrastination provides temporary relief from facing the fear. But stalling creates greater stress in the long run. Dragging out a deadline raises your tension level, things pile up and you become even more overwhelmed and unlikely to meet your deadline.

The appeaser is afraid of disapproval. So you avoid conflict by agreeing with people even when you don’t agree. You end up dealing with the stress of turning yourself into a pretzel for approval. But people pleasing has a short shelf life. Someone will disapprove of something and your cover is blown. article continues after advertisement

If you’re the sad sack, you believe you have no say-so over your life, that you’re at the mercy of life’s circumstances. You’re afraid to take chances or try new avenues to face stress because you think your actions won’t make a difference. Instead of managing work pressures, you throw in the towel and become a victim of them. You blame coworkers, family members, and others for your plight.

If you’re the slacker, you see the big picture but have trouble with details. You have creative ideas, start many projects but get bored with follow-through. Easily distracted, you start new projects before completing the ones underway. You have many half-baked tasks and missed deadlines that overwhelm you.

The Secret Sauce: The Middle Way

If you’re a stress vigilante, you need to loosen up and let go more. While a certain amount of worry and control keeps you safe, too much or too little creates more harm than good. To bring balance, learn to delegate and prioritize, cultivate more flexibility and learn to work as a team member. Take a calmer approach and do one thing at a time. Give yourself elbow room to make mistakes and learn from them. Learn to slow down and relax your mind with meditation, deep breathing or yoga. article continues after advertisement

If you’re a stress avoider, you find balance with more direct action. You can develop fearlessness, step up to the plate, and face the stressors that have gotten a free pass. There are times when you need to slack off and appease. But in the extreme, these traits backfire, raising your stress needle. To bring balance, face your stressors head-on and early instead of postponing until the last minute. Learn to stake a stand, to disagree or say no instead of always yes. Be willing to get out of your comfort zone, stick your neck out and try new things. Learn to finish one project before starting another one.

Once you determine whether you lean in the direction of the vigilante or avoider or whether you’re a combination of several types, ask yourself what actions you can take to create more balance in your life. Overall, the trick to the middle way is learning to worry or control well and to slack off and appease well, at the right time, to the right degree, to the right people.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Founder and CAO of ComfortZones Digital and Author of 40 books.

    ComfortZones Digital

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is Founder and Chief Architect Officer (CAO) of ComfortZones Digital--the digital companion to mitigate workplace stress. He is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself."