Individuals differ considerably in their vulnerability to task-induced stress, in part because of individual differences in cognitions of task demands. This study investigated the personality and cognitive factors that may control stress vulnerability, using a ‘rapid information processing’ task that was configured to overload attention. Stress response was assessed using the Dundee Stress State Questionnaire (Matthews, G. et al., 2002. Fundamental dimensions of subjective state in performance settings: task engagement, distress and worry. Emotion, 2, 315–340), as well as instruments assessing workload, appraisal and coping. Time pressure was manipulated as a between-subjects stress factor. Higher time pressure tended to elicit decreased effort and task engagement and avoidance coping. However, much of the variance in state response was attributable to individual differences in appraisal and coping. The personality trait of neuroticism related to some of these cognitive processes. Subjective state, appraisal and coping were also predictive of objective performance indices. Consistent with the transactional theory of stress, subjective states appear to correspond to configurations of cognitive processes that signal the participant's mode of adaptation to task demands. The findings underscore the importance of accommodating individual differences in selecting operators for handling overload, for designing interfaces and for training operators to manage overload successfully.