Wisdom//

Why People React Differently to Stress

To say that stress is a complex phenomenon is an understatement.

Image via ViDi Studio/Shutterstock
Image via ViDi Studio/Shutterstock

Imagine the following situation. You’ve been waiting in line for your morning beverage for nearly 20 minutes. At this rate, you are going to be late for an important work presentation. Suddenly, the cashier decides to go on a break. You shoot him a cold glare, which doesn’t seem to faze him in the least. You’re infuriated. Your pulse escalates, your palms begin to sweat, and you feel a slight headache coming on. Meanwhile, the person behind you in line, who has been waiting nearly as long as you have, and who is also juggling two rambunctious children, seems unflustered. She simply moves to another cashier.

Why are humans so different in their responses to stress? Some of us feel energized, some feel drained, some work harder, and some resort to harmful activities, such as illicit drugs or gambling. To say that stress is a complex phenomenon is an understatement. There are many different variables impacting how you respond to different stresses.

Personality

Stress and personality are closely intertwined. Several of the Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extroversion/ introversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) have been shown to impact stress levels. One of the most frequently drawn relationships is that between high levels of stress and “Type A” personality types. The Type A-Type B personality hypothesis outlines two distinct personality types. Type A is typically associated with ambitious, competitive, and sometimes aggressive behaviors. Type A individuals also tend to exhibit high levels of impatience and time urgency. They are apt to get frustrated while waiting in line and may walk or talk at a fast pace. They typically yearn for more hours in their day. They also have a strong need to achieve. Research has shown that Type A individuals tend to display several distinct stress-related physical characteristics, including facial tension (such as a clenched jaw) and teeth grinding.

On the flip side, Type B people are typically associated with more relaxed behavior. They rarely fret. Unlike Type A individuals, they don’t tend to be overly competitive and don’t feel a strong need to be in control of groups or situations. They take each day as it comes. Their more laid-back personality makes them generally less prone to stress. When they are subjected to stress, they tend to be highly productive.

While Type A personalities tend to be more susceptible to stress, everyone falls on a continuum. No one is completely Type A or entirely Type B. Additionally, a person can exhibit Type A behaviors in certain circumstances and Type B in others.

And remember, although each person falls in a different spot on the Type A-Type B spectrum, everyone has control over their actions. When it comes to time and anticipatory stress, you are the scribe of your own destiny. Choosing how you think about the events and situations that come your way can change the way you feel about them. Try the quiz in Figure 2.2 on page 40 to see if you’re a Type A personality.

Even your level of introversion or extroversion impacts how you respond to stress. Extroverts, for example, are more social and communicative than introverts. As a result, they are more likely to voice their concerns, troubles, and grievances, rather than let them fester internally. This can be immensely powerful in warding off stress.

Additionally, extroverts tend to have more expansive social support systems than introverts. These support systems can also function as powerful shields against stress. Social contact has been shown to boost the production of neurochemicals and the release of endorphins and other “feel-good” hormones. Thus, it’s not all that surprising that extroverts have been found to be more optimistic and less likely to experience stress.

Introverts, on the other hand, are much more likely to keep their emotions and thoughts to themselves. They are also less likely to seek out the company of others, which can deprive them of stress-quelling endorphins. While extroverts tend to reap energy from the company of others, introverts tend to gain energy from time alone or one-on-one with a friend. This is in no way a reflection of social skills. On the whole, introverts and extroverts have equally strong social skills. But it can cause introverts to experience higher levels of stress.

Introverts also handle stress very differently from extroverts. Extroverts tend to talk about stress with others, processing their feelings aloud and seeking understanding and comfort from the people they know. Introverts, on the other hand, tend to withdraw when they are stressed. They need space to recharge and come to terms with their situation.

In coping with stress, introverts often find mindfulness, meditation, and other quiet practices rejuvenating. Many introverts also find poetry and journaling enormously beneficial as they tend to prefer to communicate in writing rather than verbally.

Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? While everyone falls along a spectrum, your level of introversion or extroversion profoundly impacts how likely you are to experience stress.

Excerpted from the book Stress-Less Leadership by Dr. Nadine Greiner. Copyright © 2019 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc.

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