top of page
  • Writer's pictureSarah M.

Internal vs. External

What’s the Difference?

Rush, rush, hurry, hurry - "I got this, I got that", "I have no time"....the list is endless. But what if you are creating this, creating stress because i's the norm?

If you are stressed, a quick online search will yield loads of management techniques. But not all stress is created equally. Identification is key. And internal and external stressors need to be handled in differently.

Handling the stress of a speeding ticket is much different from the way you work to improve your self-esteem. Both can cause stress, but the amount of control you have over each of them is very different.

The speeding ticket happens to you (external) while self-esteem is created by you (internal). To reduce the stress of receiving a speeding ticket, your only choice is to change your reaction.

To reduce the stress you feel from low self-esteem, you have internal power to change the way you view yourself altogether.

In short, internal stressors describe stress that happens within the mind while external stressors are events that happen in your surroundings. Identifying whether your stressors are mostly internal or external will guide you toward better stress control.

What’s So Bad About Stress?

When we feel threatened by events, thoughts or feelings, our bodies undergo a physical stress response. This releases chemicals like cortisol that contributes to lowered physical and mental health. So even if some stress is manageable and ok, stress can do some real harm to us.

Effects of stress include:



Sleep problems

Chest pain

Sadness or depression

Eating problems

Risk for heart attack or stroke

Both internal and external stressors can have the same physical and psychological effects.

Negative effects build up over time, and if stress is a chronic problem, this can lead to worsening health conditions.

If you experience constant stress, start by identifying the source and finding appropriate stress management practices that work for you. Begin by asking yourself whether your stressors are coming from within or around you.

Internal Stressors

Internal stressors are made by your belief system and the way you evaluate yourself. When you have trouble meeting personal expectations, goals and visions, internal stress results.

Thus, the way you think about life, yourself and the world around you, impacts your stress levels.

Your everyday emotions can be internal stressors, your thinking patterns can lead to detrimental stress buildup.

Examples of internal stressors:

Pessimistic attitude

Negative self-talk

Deep need to be perfect

Low self-esteem

Unhealthy standards for self

The only way to effectively handle internal stressors is to change your way of thinking. It might take a conversation with a friend or a therapist, lots of journal writing or finding an outlet in the arts to help remold your preconceptions. And your coping mechanisms can change and evolve with you.

Learning to handle internal stressors makes it much easier to handle external stressors, too. When you develop flexibility and coping strategies while alleviating internal stressors, you can apply these same skills to stressors caused by external sources.

External Stressors

External stressors are out of your control. These are stressful things that happen in your surroundings and environment. From worldwide events to small car accidents, everyone experiences external stress daily, it's just part of our lives.

The key difference between external and internal stressors is that external stressors are unlikely to be in your control. The only way to reduce the stress caused by external stressors is to change the way you react to the stressors. You control the effect it has on your life.

Examples of external stressors include:

Busy schedule

Work problems

Family issues

Financial trouble

Social problems


Unforeseen circumstances

External stressors range in severity and affect each person differently. A series of external stressors can add up to create massive stress levels, which threaten your health.

While you don’t have much control over external factors themselves, you do control your environment and the way you react to external events.

You can adjust your environment to reduce the likelihood of external stressors. And you can develop new ways of processing external stressors.

The key is understanding that you can’t control most of them, but you can control the way you react. That’s why it’s best for you to first conquer your internal stressors, you’ll have prepared your mind to better handle tough external stressors.

The Amount of Control You Have is Key

It’s important to identify whether stressors are coming from an internal or external place. When you identify how much control you have over a situation, you can better manage the distress it causes.

There are countless ways to handle both internal and external stressors, but here are a handful of tips to help you get started:

Tips for Handling Internal Stressors

Journal. (Be honest) Keep track of your day-to-day experiences and record changes in your mood. You’ll begin to see patterns in the way you think, which is the first step in identifying and eliminating unhealthy internal responses.

Therapy. Sometimes it takes a professional to recognize unhealthy patterns in your thinking and help you get back on track. A therapist can help you think more positively about yourself and teach you stress-management skills.

Exercise. Physical activity is a very effective stress relief tool. Not only does it relieve tension and feel-good chemicals in your body, but it can offer a meditative state for your mind to process stress.

Tips for Handling External Stressors

Talk it out. If you’re feeling stress because of a situation with a friend, boss or family member, speaking up can relieve anxiety and stress. It might feel difficult, but talking through issues knocks out a lot of associated stress.

Develop stress-relief strategies. When stressful things happen out of nowhere, you should have some go-to techniques to reduce stress in those moments. It’s helpful to learn and know stress-relieving breathing or meditation techniques. You’ll be better prepared to handle stress from external events.

Make changes. If life is just too stressful in general, you may need to make some difficult decisions. Leaving a toxic job or relationship might be hard, but it might also remove chronic stress. Take steps to create a life that takes care of you, not one that buries you in stress.

Everyone’s different, so it’s a good thing there are stress management techniques to fit into anyone’s life.

When You Should Get Help

Yes, everyone undergoes stress. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer through it. People need to manage stress in order to be their best selves. You will always experience stress, but with stress management practices, you’ll begin to handle it with more ease.

If stress is ongoing and you’re feeling it deepen to a point of constant sadness, anxiety or depression, it might be time to talk to a doctor or therapist. Sometimes, people need help identifying internal and external stressors, and learning how to deal with them in healthy a way. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help when stress is putting your overall health at risk.

No matter the cause of your stress, making the decision to act is the first step on your way to living a happier life. Whatever you do, don't just sit there and suffer in silence.


Please share your thoughts on the subject and some of your coping tips?


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page