PERSONALITY TYPE AND STRESS
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Greg is always in a hurry. At 37, married and working as a commission-only salesman, he forever seems to be in two places at once. He has to be the best, whether it’s receiving his company’s most valuable player award three years in a row, or soundly beating his racquetball partner during a “friendly” match at lunch. At parties, Greg tends to drink a little more than he should, and gets into arguments with the people around him.
During his last medical checkup, his doctor suggested he learn to slow down a little, quit pushing himself all the time, leave the iPhone at home during the weekend. Greg shrugs off that kind of advice – his wife has been telling him that for years.
Greg is a “Type A” personality, a prime candidate for a heart attack, ulcer, stroke or other stress-related problem. And he’s not alone.
Read more: Stress and our health
TYPE A BEHAVIOR
A 10-year study of healthy business executives, carried out by two American cardiologists, found that the stress-prone individuals in the group – or Type A personalities – were three times more likely to experience heart attacks than their more relaxed colleagues.
Their study theorizes that it is more than your cholesterol level, your blood pressure or even the number of cigarettes you smoke that predisposes you to heart disease. Your personality and temperament are also determining factors.
This makes particular sense when you realize that the age range for heart attacks is dropping. Younger people, who seem vigorous and healthy and should be carrying on until a ripe old age, are having trouble with their cardiac systems. One-third of all heart attacks occur between the ages of 30 and 45. An inability to handle stress is the culprit, and some of us are more at risk than others.
Nobody possesses all the characteristics of a stress-prone personality. But you may find that you have certain behavior traits that fit into the patterns below. Use this as a guide to working on changing those aspects that are likely to prove troublesome.
Hostility and anger
If you’re under constant low-level stress, you’re likely to feel hostile towards those around you, not very trusting – even a little paranoid. You’re also likely to feel angry more often than someone who is feeling more relaxed and less pressured. A Minnesota study found that people who feel hostile a great deal of the time have a death rate from all causes that is six times higher than the average person. They are also six times more likely to contract heart disease.
This is not to say that you should never get angry. But you should realize that getting yourself angry and worked up on a regular basis is not only likely to alienate you from those around you – it may also be harmful for your health.
Type A personalities tend to overplan each day. They impose an unrealistic schedule upon themselves, with goals that are often impossible to reach, utilizing all the technology from laptops, blackberries, cell phones and so on. They are perfectionists, whose tight programs leave no room for unforeseen problems. With no time to do things properly, unable to relax without feeling guilty, the Type A person is constantly frustrated and unhappy, and usually behind in his self-imposed schedule.
Multiple thoughts and actions
The impatient, over-programmed person doesn’t live in the here-and-now. She reads while she eats, cell phones while driving to work, works on reports while watching television. This is the person at the party who tends to finish other people’s sentences, rushes them along, appears to be listening when she’s thinking of something else. This sort of person will seem to have many friends but the truth of the matter is that she usually has few meaningful relationships.
Need to win
Do you have to win to be happy? The classic Type A becomes agitated and unhappy when he loses, whether it’s an account at the office or a tennis match. His behavior goes well beyond the realms of healthy competition; instead, it’s obsessive. For such a person, playing the game isn’t the important thing – winning is an end in itself, at all costs.
Need for recognition
We all like to be commended on a job well done, but for the Type A person this need for recognition supercedes everything. Work takes on an importance completely out of proportion to the rest of her life. She may amass enormous wealth and possessions as proof of her success, but finds that somehow she doesn’t enjoy them as much as she should. And that no matter how much she has, it’s never enough.
Inability to relax
It probably goes without saying that a true Type A personality can’t relax without feeling guilty about it. This is the workaholic who is the first to arrive at the office in the morning and the last to leave at night, the laptop at home, keeping him or her connected at all times.
The Type A person will seldom – perhaps never – take holidays, and when he does, will be texting or e mailing into the office every day to see what’s going on. What leisure activities he does have will be planned and programmed to the nth degree, and so recreation becomes just as tedious and stressful as work.
TYPE B PERSONALITY
As you may have guessed, the Type B person is very different from her Type A counterpart. Type B tends to be confident of what she can do and pretty much accepting of what she cannot. This is not to suggest that the Type B person does not have drive or ambition. It simply means that she can work without feeling wound up and agitated, and her work is generally more productive in the long run because she feels good about doing it. The Type B person is much more likely to relax and take a vacation without feeling guilty about it.
Read more: Relieving Stress and Anxiety (Free download)
HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE A TYPE A PERSONALITY
Although Type A behavior may run in your family, it is not a genetic factor – Type A’s are made, not born. Type A fathers and mothers teach their children to respond to the stresses of life with Type A behavior. It’s something that has been learned, and it can be unlearned, or at least modified, if the desire to do so is there.
It’s important to remember that we are all individuals. Some of us truly do thrive on stress and would not be nearly as productive without it. For those stress-seekers, life would loose much of its flavor if those frequent challenges were taken away. The problem is not the stress itself, but a person’s temperament and ability to cope.
In her book Life Stress, Rosalind Forbes suggests you rate yourself as to how you typically react in each of the situations listed in the following chart. Remember – there are no right or wrong answers.
EXERCISE 6: PERSONALITY TEST
Ratings: 4-Always 3-Frequently 2-Sometimes 1-Never
- Do you try to do as much as possible in the least time?
- Do you become impatient with delays or interruptions?
- Do you always have to win at games to enjoy yourself?
- Do you find yourself speeding up the car to beat the red light?
- Are you unlikely to ask for help with a problem?
- Do you constantly seek the respect and admiration of others?
- Are you overly critical of the way others do their work?
- Do you have the habit of looking at your watch or clock often?
- Do you always strive to better your position and achievements?
- Do you spread yourself “too thin” in terms of your time?
- Do you have the habit of doing more than one thing at a time?
- Do you frequently get angry or irritable?
- Do you have little time for hobbies or time by yourself?
- Do you have a tendency to talk quickly or hasten conversations?
- Do you consider yourself hard-driving?
- Do your friends or relatives consider you hard-driving?
- Do you have a tendency to get involved in multiple projects?
- Do you have a lot of deadlines in your work?
- Do you feel guilty if you relax and do nothing during leisure?
- Do you take on too many responsibilities?
TOTAL – If you score between 20 and 30, the chances are that your are non-productive, or your life lacks stimulation. A score of 31-50 designates a good balance in your ability to handle and control stress. If you score between 51 and 60, your stress level is marginal and you border on being excessively tense. Learning relaxation techniques will lower your risk of developing stress-related problems. If your total number of points is greater than 60, your stress could seriously affect your health. It’s time for a change!