What Is Stress Tolerance and 7 Scientific Ways to Build It

How do you handle stressful situations?

  • Do you buckle under pressure and breakdown?
  • Or do you rise to the occasion and give your best?

If you’re like most people, stress has a negative effect on you. When faced with stressful situations, most people cave under pressure.

However, some individuals thrive in stressful situations

“How?” You ask

Short answer! These individuals have found a way to improve their tolerance to stress.

By improving their stress tolerance, these individuals can thrive in highly stressful environments.

And you can too.

By applying the strategies you’ll learn in this post, you’ll be able to improve your ability to withstand stress and the pressures that come with it.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

Let’s get right into it:

What is stress tolerance
Source: pexels.com (energepic.com)

What is Stress Tolerance?

Ever met people who thrive in high-pressure situations?

You know,

  • that workmate who never complains about deadlines.
  • The guy who rarely asks for helps even when things get tough, or
  • That friend who’s always calm in moments of uncertainty

Such people are said to have high-stress tolerance.

According to psychologist David Ballard, stress tolerance is the ability to cope with stress and adversity without getting overwhelmed.

People with high-stress tolerance can withstand stressful situations, uncertainty, and change without losing their cool. They can handle deadlines being pushed up and welcome the challenge of working on a tough project until it’s finished.

In times of crisis, these people can remain emotionally strong and calm while looking for possible solutions.

People with low-stress tolerance, on the other hand, tend to lose their cool when in a crisis. They become hopeless, bitter, hostile, and cynical towards themselves and others around them. 

Why is Stress Tolerance Important?

Before we can understand why it’s crucial to have a positive stress tolerance, let’s first look at how stress affects our brains.

When we’re stressed, our body produces stress hormones. Production of these flight or fight hormones inhibits the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for decision making, memory, behavior, and emotions.

So, whenever you’re stressed, your decision making, memory and emotional intelligence are impaired.

However, not all stress is bad.

Some amount of stress is required to keep you motivated and focused.

But when it becomes too much, it results in poor decision making, an inability to control impulses and behaviors, as well as memory problems.

Which is why stress tolerance is essential.

Improving your brain’s ability to handle high-pressure situations means you can make the right decisions even when in a stressful scenario.

What Is Stress Tolerance

Why is My Stress Tolerance So Low?

Low stress tolerance may occur due to different reasons.

One of the most common is working on tasks that you’re not passionate about. If you don’t like what you’re doing, even the slightest inconvenience can result in massive amounts of stress.

However, when doing something that you love, you’re less likely to feel stressed and even welcome challenges.

Another reason why your stress tolerance is so low is because you’ve taken on too much too soon.

If you’ve been to the gym, you know that taking on too much weight too soon can result in injuries. However, you can slowly build up your strength to handle the previously heavy weight.

Same goes for stress.

If you take on too much responsibility without any experience of what a role entails, stress is likely to overwhelm you fast.

But if you’ve previously taken on extra responsibility, or have some experience in a role, your stress tolerance is likely to be higher.

What Happens When I have Low-Stress Tolerance?

Studies have found that approximately 30 million Americans suffer from low-stress tolerance.

If you’re among this population, you may suffer from a mental condition known as overstress. People experiencing overstress exhibit several symptoms, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Altered appetite
  •  Depression
  • Substance abuse, and
  • Body aches.

And that’s not all:

Symptoms of overstress may combine, leading to you feeling run down and in a cyclic downward spiral.

In the modern-day world, where most adult’s lives are filled with stress from work, family, and social responsibilities, it’s essential to have a way to deal with overstress. One of the ways to do this is by improving your stress tolerance.

Man with low stress tolerance
Source: Pexels.com (Oladimeji)

Related Article: Stress Coach: Ultimate Guide & 8 Best Stress Coaches

How do You Build Tolerance to Stress?

Here are seven ways to build your stress tolerance.

Recognize your Stressor and Name  

The first step to building your tolerance to stress is by first recognizing your stressor and paying attention to it.

Don’t ignore your stressor in the hope that it’ll go away. In fact, ignoring what’s stressing you only makes things worse.

What you should do instead is accept that your stressed. Pay attention to what’s stressing you and put a name to the exact issue or item causing you stress.

If it’s your job, think about the real cause of the stress. Is it your boss, workmates, or numerous tasks you have to complete?

Recognizing and identifying agents of stress helps you to improve your response.

And don’t just take my word for it.

UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman conducted a study that showed that the simple act of naming negative feelings helps to activate the prefrontal cortex; therefore, helping with your response.

When you feel like the pressure is about to overwhelm you, take a break and think about what’s causing the pressure. Once you’re able to name what’s really stressing you, you’ll be less likely to be overwhelmed. 

Recognize the Signs of Stress

What happens to you when you’re stressed?

Do you experience mood swings, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, or lack of sleep?

Every person reacts differently to stress, which is why it’s essential to recognize the signs that tell you when stress is taking over.

Recognizing signs of stress allows you a chance to take a break and think about what’s really causing the pressure, and how you can handle it.

Knowing the signs that come with stress will also help you to act. This may include removing yourself from a situation until you can respond positively, changing your perspective, or shifting your attitude towards the stressor.

Focus on What’s Important

Stress can either be internal or external.

External pressure occurs due to things outside of your control. It could be your boss or other responsibilities.

However, internal stress occurs due to factors such as doing things that you don’t want or like..

So, before undertaking anything, take the time to ask yourself why you’re doing it.  Figuring out what you value allows you to improve your tolerance to pressures and adversities that may come along the way.


Woman exercising to build stress tolerance
Source: pexels.com (Gustavo)

Exercise is a double-edged sword when it comes to stress tolerance.

On one side, it provides you with an incredible boost in energy and is a physical outlet for stress. Researchers have found a link between regular exercise and a decrease in overall tension and stress.

From personal experience, I find that I’m likely to get irritated and easily stressed if I don’t work out for a prolonged period.

Exercise is especially useful for you if you suffer from panic and anxiety disorders. When exercising, your body goes through some physical and mental strain. The simple act of exercising, even just running in place, allows your brain to gain a feeling of control. 

Regular exercise allows your body to develop a high tolerance for physical and mental stress, which in turn translates to resilience in stressful situations elsewhere.

On the other side, too much exercise can result in adrenal fatigue, which may reduce your resilience to stress.

Sleep Well

One of the best ways to build your endurance to stress is to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.

Good sleep is essential to ensuring your body’s functioning at it’s optimum. When you don’t sleep well, you’re more likely to become irritable, slow, and generally lazy.

However, when you get a good night’s sleep, you’re more rested and can handle stressful situations better.

And this is why researchers have found a link between quality sleep and increased stress tolerance.

“But doesn’t stress result in sleeping problems?”

It all depends on your evening routine. What you do before going to bed plays a crucial role in determining the quality of your sleep.

Here are a few tips to help you improve the quality of your sleep:

  • Avoid drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks six hours before your bedtime
  • Switch off your phone 30 minutes before going to bed
  • Don’t watch any TV or use any screen 30 minutes before bed.
  • Write in your journal or meditate before going to sleep.Sleep in pitch darkness.

Adopting the above tips will help you to sleep better and, in turn, improve your tolerance to stress.

Practice Relaxation techniques

Just like sleep, relaxation techniques provide you with much-needed rest time, which is essential to building your mental stress tolerance.

Studies have shown that relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and Tai Chi help decrease your perception to stress and improve your reaction to pressure and uncertainty.

Seek Help

Another way of improving how you respond to stress is by seeking professional help and support.

A coach acts as an objective person who’ll help you work through obstacles, challenges, and uncertainty. With a coach by your side, you have someone to help you figure out what’s stressing you, why it’s stressing you, as well as help you develop strategies to help you improve your stress tolerance.

Don’t Let Stress Get the Better of you.

No matter what you do or where you go, you’ll always experience stress.

What makes the difference is how you handle the stress.

First, recognize that stress is essential for any growth to happen. Then apply the above strategies to help improve your stress tolerance and resilience. 

Do you know of any other strategies?

Tell us in the comments below.

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About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.