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How stress affects different personality types

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By Katrina E. Stackhouse, Southern Health Contributor

Stress is like a rolling stone that just keeps on coming at us, and for some of us, the more we try to push it from our lives, the more momentum it seems to gain. While we may never be free of the impact of stress, we can learn how to manage it in a way that benefits our personality.

Understanding stress

"The first thing we need to understand is what stress is," says Todd A. Gill, D.C., a certified chiropractic sports physician at Mt. Carmel Chiropractic Clinic, S.C in Mt. Carmel. "Stress can be defined as the way in which our body reacts to change and threats. The second thing we need to understand is the seriousness of stress."

According to a 2005 study performed by the American Psychological Association (APA), 43 percent of adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. The APA warns that stress is also linked to the six leading causes of death - heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

"Looking at stress from a chemical standpoint, it manifests as an increase in stimulation to our autonomic nervous system resulting in a release of two hormones in our body - cortisol and adrenaline," Gill says. "While in the short-term, these hormones are of benefit to our functioning, in the long-term the effects can be dangerous."

An article published by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER) warns against the long-term effects of increased cortisol production reporting that long-term activation of the stress-response system - and overexposure to cortisol - can disrupt almost all of our body's processes, increasing our risk of obesity, heart disease, depression, memory impairment, physical illnesses, and other complications.

Negotiating stress based on personality

"We can think of personality as a stable set of internal characteristics, values, and beliefs that influences the psychological behavior of the individual," says Jaime Clark, a Ph.D. candidate and professional psychology intern at the SIUC Counseling Center in Carbondale. "These characteristic greatly affect how each of us deals with stress," Clark adds.

"Differentiating between Type A and Type B personality types is broadly based on anxiety and stress levels, but it must be noted that few people fit perfectly with either category," Clark says.

People with Type A personality characteristics are thought to live at higher stress levels, Clark reports. This is thought to be the result of setting high achievement standards, feeling great time pressures, being extremely competitive, hating failure and working to avoid it, and feeling insecure that their achievements are never enough.

"People with Type A personalities are often thought of as leaders, risk takers, and independent thinkers," Clark shares. "A drawback to this is that these personality types are often linked with higher stress levels, cortisol production, and coronary heart disease."

Clark describes Type B personalities as patient, relaxed, and easygoing. They may enjoy achievements, but do not become stressed when they do not achieve them. When faced with competition, they can play without getting caught up in winning or losing.

"These individuals are often thought to be creative and reflective, and think about both the inner and outer worlds," she says. "People with Type B personalities are more able to enjoy free time without experiencing the guilt that a person with a Type A personality may experience."

A testimonial to stress

Erin Koelkebeck, a third year student with a double major in photography and advertising at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (SIUC) feels most of her stress comes from school work and time management.

In addition to her studies, Koelkebeck is employed part-time and is involved in extra-curricular activities. "This year I'm taking on more responsibility academically and volunteering more," Koelkebeck says. "At first I didn't know how to balance everything - so much so - that I wasn't sleeping regularly. I found myself so stressed that I started having anxiety attacks. I knew then I had to do something."

Koelkebeck serves as the perfect example of the over-extended, overstressed, Type A personality who strives to be the best, though sometimes at the expense of her personal sanity.

"On days that I feel too overwhelmed I speak to a counselor," Koelkebeck says. "My counselor provides a listening ear and is a great source for tips to help me decrease anxiety and stress."

Seeing a professional can provide insight into how to effectively deal with the stressors in your life and they can prescribe a program and or strategies to help you deal with stress based on your unique needs and personality type.

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