All you need to know about stress tolerance and 12 ways to manage it

Sabina Muminović Last updated: 27 October 2023

Stress is an unavoidable companion of a busy modern life. So learning to recognise overstress and how to deal with pressure is crucial for overcoming life’s daily challenges!

People deal with stress in different ways. As the deadline for the article you’re just reading approaches, I could either be:

  • Overstressed and worrying like crazy! I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish this piece on time. Why haven’t I started writing it earlier?! Gaah, I never learn. Stop barking Fido, I can’t focus!
  • Invigorated and motivated. I’ve done it before, and I’m going to do it again. No more slacking, let’s get to work!
  • Perfectly calm. Everything is fine. Everything is going to be fine, even if I have only an hour left. I’ll think of something or some excuse. I have no idea why people worry so much.

The situation is always the same, so what does my reaction depend on? Stress tolerance.

In this article, we’re going to discuss what stress tolerance means, how different stress tolerance levels affect us, what it has to do with our genes, and how we can manage it.

If you’d rather skip the theory, meet a DNA test that can reveal your predisposition for stress and a bunch of other factors with a profound impact on your health and wellbeing:

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Stress tolerance and why you should know yours?

Stress tolerance is the amount of stress you can handle without getting overwhelmed.

Lower stress tolerance means you’re more easily annoyed or frustrated by minor inconveniences and find it harder to relieve stress.

Stress is a double-edged sword. As a source of adrenaline, it can motivate us, and help us focus. But it can also be overwhelming and harmful.

If we regularly exceed our stress tolerance, it can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, health concerns, and other long-term problems.

As stress is subjective, we often neglect certain stressors because “this really shouldn’t stress me out”. Stress isn’t about “should” or “shouldn’t” – if it stresses you out, you need to address it.

Woman stressed out

Let’s see what happens when someone is overstressed.

Symptoms of being overstressed

Overstress is a condition caused by constant exposure to stress that exceeds an individual’s stress tolerance. A lifestyle that causes excessive stress is the main cause, but as stress is subjective, it’s hard to come up with universal triggers.

Shown what happens when you're overstressed

Too much stress can also result in poor decision-making, memory problems and an inability to control impulses and regulate behaviour.

But the most dangerous aspect of being overstressed is not one specific symptom. It’s a combination of them that makes you feel overwhelmed and defeated.

It can also lead to substance abuse in order to keep out with the lifestyles that led you to being overstressed in the first place. It’s a vicious spiral that’s tough to escape.

Fortunately, there are many different ways to manage stress and stress tolerance. We’ll talk about them soon.

But first, let’s look at the other side of the coin and see if it’s possible to have too much stress tolerance.

Is having a high stress tolerance a good thing?

If you’ve eliminated all stressors from your life, the answer is yes.

But that is not very likely, so it’s more likely a consequence of an extremely high stress tolerance, which you’ve acquired as some kind of coping mechanism.

This is not good. It’s important we feel a sense of urgency to deal with a critical situation, acknowledge our limits and pay attention to the pressure building around us.

If your stress tolerance is too high, you are more likely to:

  • Overestimate your capacity to get things done. Such individuals can quickly become a single point of failure and impede business processes.
  • Normalise continuous pressure and living in a state of stress.
  • Show a lack of empathy towards those who are experiencing stress and can’t cope with high-stress environments.
  • Settle for a level of dysfunction instead of solving core issues and eliminating stressors.
  • Ignore the necessary rest and recovery, which impacts your performance.

If your stress tolerance is too high, you are less likely to:

  • Ask for help as you just “don’t see the problem”.
  • Identify the source of stress and instead just treat the symptoms.
  • Change your behaviour when someone points out any weaknesses.
  • Reflect on your strategy and tactics when striving for success.

Feeling stress is a sign you’re reaching your capacity. It lets you know when something needs to change. Ignoring the signals can lead to less efficient work, burnout, and many other problems.

What affects low or high stress tolerance?

Environment certainly plays a huge role – everything from our job, friends, family, upbringing, financial situation and more.

If you’re unable to figure out which are the main stressors in your life, experts like psychologists can definitely help you out.

How do genes affect your capacity for coping with stressful situations? 

Whether we thrive or break under pressure is party determined by our genes.

Meet the COMT gene. It codes for a COMT enzyme, which breaks down chemicals released during stress: dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine.

Depending on what variant of the COMT gene you have, the COMT enzyme it produces can be either very active or not. And that determines if you are a warrior or a worrier.

When under stress, your body gets flooded with dopamine and adrenaline.

Highly active COMT equals more of the enzyme, quals a bigger army breaking down the hormones and returning balance to your body.

A decreased COMT enzyme activity – less enzyme and slower breakdown of dopamine and adrenaline – means that the stress hormones can push your body beyond its optimal levels.

12 ways to manage stress

The first step when managing stress is paying attention to what’s causing it, how you’re responding, and how long the stress is sticking around.

The second step is to try out a few different methods of managing stress and see which ones work best for you. Here are 12 ways of managing stress you can try out.

Woman sitting calm on a sofa

1. Breathing exercise

Research has shown that focusing on the breath or changing its pattern can make a big difference. Breathing techniques can calm our body and mind in just a few minutes.

While shallow breathing is associated with stress, deep breathing oxygenates your blood and clears your mind.

Try a simple 3 to 5-minute exercise: get yourself in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and bring your attention to your body and breath. Let your breath flow as deep into your stomach as is comfortable, without forcing it. It may be helpful to count steadily from 1 to 5. Then, without stopping or holding your breath, let it flow out gently, counting from 1 to 5 again.

2. Mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness is a practice aiming to increase awareness of the moment you’re in. It’s a conscious focus on the “here and now”.

Practising mindfulness and meditation can have a significant and positive impact on mental and physical health.

3. A well-balanced diet

An unprocessed diet high in fruit and vegetables, healthy protein and fats supports increased happiness, life satisfaction, well-being, and better mental health.

How does that look like in practice? Think Mediterranean diet: fruits, vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil, yoghurt and cheese, nuts, whole grains, seafood, and lean meat. And don’t forget about water!

Avoid foods that bring momentary joy but long-term harm, such as sweets or alcohol.

4. Moderate caffeine intake

Too much coffee can spike anxiety because caffeine can disrupt sleep and speed up your heartbeat. Drinking coffee up to 6 hours before bed might reduce total nightly sleep and sleep quality.

Instead, try a herbal tea with calming effects, such as chamomile, peppermint, or lavender.

5. Sufficient and quality sleep

Research has shown that those who sleep well are more satisfied with life.

Sleep disruptions can lead to moodiness, anxiety, poor emotion regulation, and repetitive negative thoughts.

For optimal health, most adults need about 7–9 hours of sleep each night. Creating a sleep schedule and a relaxing bedtime routine can work wonders.

6. Connect with friends and family

People who cultivate high-quality relationships experience higher wellbeing, life satisfaction and quality.

A good support network of colleagues, friends, and family helps you cope better with stress, grief, job loss, or illness.

7. Stress-busting activities

When you feel stressed, try to find pleasure in simple things that make you feel good. These can include painting, reading a book, spending time with friends or in nature, meditation or yoga, working in the garden, or doing a home decorating project.

Especially the kind of work and leisure that engages your skills (cooking, playing an instrument, or dancing), is a good way to enjoy yourself and feel accomplished.

8. Listening to relaxing or upbeat music

Music is an excellent remedy for stress. Listening to your favourite tunes before a stressful situation influences your body’s response to stress and helps you recover faster.

9. Regular exercise

Exercise reduces anxiety, depression, and negative mood and improves happiness.

Every day, reserve time for at least a walk. It can help you combat stress, release tension, and improve mood. The more active you are, the more benefits you’ll notice!

10. Journaling

Having a dedicated journal means having a safe place to process thoughts and emotions, as well as note when stress builds up. It can help you better understand what’s causing your stress and shine a light on things you can change.

11. Accept what you cannot change

Changing a difficult situation is not always possible. Try to focus your time and energy on the things you do have control over, such as your effort and attitude, and help yourself feel better.

12. Be positive

Being grateful makes you feel happier. Look for the positives in life and try to be thankful for the little things, like a long walk on a sunny day, a cup of hot chocolate, a bubble bath, or re-watching your favourite movie.

You can keep a gratitude diary, training yourself to focus on the positive things in life.

Shown ways how to manage stress

Learn what impacts your mental wellbeing

If you’re curious about your genetic predispositions when it comes to performing under pressure, seasonal mood problems, coping with stress, fear, sleep patterns, sports performance, vitamin levels, and much more, take our MyLifestyle DNA test.

The MyLifestyle DNA test report tells you what you should pay special attention to and gives you useful recommendations on how to handle stressful situations according to your genes!

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