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Internal vs External Stressors

Learning Lounge – Exercise

Internal vs External Stressors

Internal stressors:

Not all stress stems from things that happen to you. Much of our stress response is self-induced. Examples of internal stressors include:


  • Fears, for example, fear of failure.
  • Uncertainty and lack of control. Few people enjoy not knowing or not being able to control what might happen.
  • Unrealistic expectations, for example, putting pressure on yourself to be perfect.
  • Beliefs. These might be attitudes, opinions or expectations. You may not even think about how your beliefs shape your experience, but these preset thoughts often set us up for stress. Consider the expectations you put on yourself to create a perfect holiday celebration or advance up the career ladder.

External stressors:

Other stressors come from external factors, which are forces that you can’t easily control. Examples of External Stressors include:

  • Major life events e.g. a family bereavement or injury
  • Urgent deadlines
  • An upcoming exam
  • Economic issues
  • Car or Transportation Issues
  • Instability in the Financial World
  • Your favourite TV show is being cancelled

What are the key stressors in your life?



Stephen Covey’s circle of concern and circle of influence

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.   Reinhold Niebuhr

Stephen Covey - Circle of Concern Diagram, internal vs external stressors

A video about how the circle of influence can change the way you work.

Take the stressors, challenges and concerns  you listed on the previous page, and try to populate the circles of control and influence.  The task is to realise which of these things are inside and which outside of your Circle of Control.

Some things – like the weather, pandemics, the economy – are out of your control – there’s nothing you can do about them. Other things, such as how you respond to certain people, your work performance, and whether you eat healthy or unhealthy food, are totally within your control.

But perhaps some of the things in your Circle of Concern, that you can’t control directly, are things you can influence. Being proactive means acting on what you can control, and working on expanding your Circle of Influence, and doing what you can about them, instead of waiting for things to happen.

This Exercise was created by MPI Learning Principal Consultant Sarah Jones

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