Six Factors Behind Your Emotional Response To Stress

A couple dozen people are waiting to board a plane, and at the last minute the flight is delayed...

One person immediately runs up to the gate attendant waving a ticket and demanding to know why and what the airline plans to do about it.

Another individual plugs in a pair of earbuds, close their eyes and gets comfortable.

Someone else gets on the phone and starts pacing the waiting area, while a parent with young children is clearly distraught but holds it together to manage the kids; a person noticing the parent’s distress offers to help.

One situation provokes many different human reactions. Our own reaction to a specific event makes sense to us, while another person’s response can seem over the top or even ridiculous. What causes this variety of emotional behavior?

Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain, has been studying the human emotional response. He noticed that each individual’s emotional style (typical way of responding to things) is related to six factors: resilience, outlook, sensitivity to context, social intuition, self-awareness, and attention.

Six Factors of Emotional Style

Our response to people and events is a mix of how we manage the following qualities.


When the boss is upset or a flight is delayed, RESILIENCE is measured by how fast you recover your equilibrium after this event. A very resilient person more easily shrugs off stressful situations or more quickly finds a way of coming to terms with them.

We all fall somewhere on the optimist-pessimist continuum, and that indicates our overall OUTLOOK on life.

How and to what degree you adjust your behavior to suit the person you are talking to or the environment you are in indicates your SENSITIVITY TO CONTEXT.

Your SOCIAL INTUITION is reflected in your ability to read or pick up on social cues such as another’s body language, facial, and verbal expressions.

Your aptitude for grasping signals from your own body and mind indicates your level of SELF-AWARENESS. Self-awareness includes physical sensations, emotions, feelings, thoughts, instincts, and intuitions.

Focusing on a conversation, task, or situation involves your ATTENTION. Your ability to be attentive includes managing distractions and pulling your attention back to your task if you have been distracted.

Mix your management of these six factors in a blender and the result is your personal emotional smoothie, or how you emotionally respond to situations most of the time. For some of us, the smoothie may not be all that smooth.

Although we reach adulthood with a personal setting for these six qualities established, nothing is set in stone. We can use our understanding of the six factors to exercise compassion for ourselves and others and, if we choose, make adjustments in any of the factors that create our habitual emotional style.

Photo: Pixabay

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