How Do You React to Stress? Are You an Over or Under- Functioner?

react to stress

People tend to react to stress in predictable ways. Some spring into action mode, trying to solve and fix. Others shut down and curl up into a ball. Both extremes are old, deeply ingrained strategies for dealing with stress. Read on to find out which reaction you tend towards and how to find more balance.

A Stressful Situation

Let’s say that an anxiety-provoking, unexpected situation comes along and creates stress for a whole family. Some people are over-functioners. They react to stress by springing into action, immediately doing everything they can to fix the situation and do damage control. They tend to be hyper-responsible, organized and focused on the goal of fixing the problem.

Over-functioners manage their own anxiety by DOING. They get busy, talk fast, run around, gather information. They function very well in a crisis because it keeps them busy and allows them to take control of their own feelings, at least for now.

Under-functioners, on the other hand, tend to shut down. While the over-functioners are running around fixing everything, the under-functioners aren’t picking up the phone. They hear the stressful news and think to themselves, “I can’t deal with this right now”. Maybe they’ve had a hell day at work and can’t process one more thing. So they react to stress by avoiding, shutting down, numbing out. They pull the metaphorical blanket over their heads and decide “other people have this handled, I’ll deal with it tomorrow”.

As you can imagine, these patterns often go together in families and relationships. One person plays the role of over-functioner, the other of under-functioner. The challenge is not to react to stress by responding in either extreme, but to find middle ground for coping with stress in a calm, effective way.

Are you an over or under-functioner? Which of these do you relate to more?

  • Are hyper-responsible
  • Spring into action when a crisis arises
  • Solve and fix
  • Take responsibility for others’ actions and feelings
  • Tend to talk a lot
  • Are prone to perfectionism, anxiety and burnout
Your challenge:

Slow down and take a breath. Work on letting go of the desire to fix or control things that aren’t your responsibility. Let others do their part. Acknowledge and feel your feelings. Practice self-care.

  • Function minimally in a crisis
  • Shut down
  • Rely on others to solve and manage problems
  • Minimize the importance of events or feelings
  • Are quiet and withdrawn
  • Are prone to use substances or activities to numb out
Your challenge:

Take responsibility for your part in things. Offer to help. Acknowledge your own feelings and the feelings of others. Show up.

The first step toward changing these stress patterns is to be aware of them, so if you notice these things in yourself, good job! The next step is to notice when these old strategies are kicking in and respond a little differently next time.


Read More about Over and Under- Functioning

Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger

Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Related Articles:

Relax and Get Grounded Quickly: Feet, Seat, Shoulders, Breathe

A Calm Place Meditation to Lower Stress Quickly

5 Ways for Busy Moms to Stay Positive (even when the wheels come off)

Why is Self-Care so Hard When We Need it Most?

Why Fall is the Best Season for an Emotional Reset

Get your free guide: Mindfulness to Go! 30 Strategies to Keep You Calm on the Run



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