At 3 weeks into “shelter in place” orders amidst a global pandemic, I’m guessing every reader’s stress personality has emerged! I’m reading headlines that alcohol sales are up 55%! People are coming home from grocery shopping with shortness of breath and convinced they caught the virus but really having a panic attack. Fear is lurking behind every headline and now every move we make outside of our homes. It is time to take a look at our reactions before habits are formed that we will all regret.
Each of us developed a pattern of coping that results from a combination of our natural characteristics and the particular environment we grew up in. These patterns have goals: to make us feel safe, loved and just better. Our brain is programmed to seek pleasure over pain. We are programmed to seek love and belonging and we are programmed to survive. These powerful motivators work under the surface to inform our choices when we are triggered by a stressful situation. How about a global pandemic?!?! In my weekly meditations people are rating their stress levels anywhere from 4-10 with 10 being the highest. Most people are around 7. That’s high. That’s everyday. Identifying your stress personality (and your loved ones) will help us all to navigate this time with empathy and awareness.
You don't have to like it, but accepting the situation, your feelings, your frustrations, your worries with compassion will allow you to open to growth opportunities and navigate what lies ahead with a cool head and an open heart.
Stress Personality Types
Each pattern has positive and negative qualities. Let’s start with the positive aspects of the patterns or when you are at your best and relaxed. Most people are a combination of one or two or more. See what resonates for you. The key is to find your own unique pattern. I feel that I’m a mix and that need for control is the root.
- Idealistic, lots of social interest
- Make other people laugh, offers positive encouragement
- Is a leader, creative, self-confident. Awards, degrees, prizes for accomplishments.
- Organized, coordinates activities, patient, persistent and efficient.
- Good leader and crisis manager, takes charge, bringing order to chaos
- Loyal, helpful, reliable, obeys the law.
- Friendly, lots of friends, good listener and empathetic.
- Considerate and sensitive to others, genuine interest in other’s well being
- Adaptable and able to compromise
- Stable and dependable, flexible and easy going
- Creates comfortable, relaxing atmosphere for others
- Good at letting others feel important, minds own business and good at what you do.
Under stress, these personality types look like this:
- Like to be right or the expert, hiding feeling of inferiority
- Take on too much and become overwhelmed
- Critical/judgmental of self and others, making others feel inadequate
- Current example from social media: “Those idiots are wearing gloves to grocery shop! Don’t they know better?!” Obsessed with the news.
- What you need: acknowledgment, focus on solutions, gratitude, curiosity and interest in others.
- Lacks spontaneity, social/emotional distance
- Hides any weakness, defensive, avoiding dealing with the issue
- Critical/fault-finding and invite power struggles.
- Current example: Appears to have all their zoom meetings in perfect order, appears to be effortlessly implementing all possible avenues to avoid infection. Obsessed with the news. Privately freaking out.
- What you need: Space and time to work out feelings, choices, taking small action steps, listen to others, ask for what you need, delegate.
- Give in too much/too apologetic, say yes when you want to say no.
- Difficult taking a stand or making a decision
- Easily hurt/oversensitive
- Avoid conflict, invite others to feel annoyed and guilty and then resentful.
- Current example: Taking great effort to make all family members happy while sheltering in place, allowing others to choose. News is overwhelming now but is sucked into videos on how to be the perfect working mom/homeschooler/home chef, etc.
- What you need: Acts of affection and appreciation, safety in expressing how you feel, saying no, not taking things personally, spending time alone.
- Hard to motivate, non-productive, take path of least resistance
- Worry a lot but don’t let others know how scared you are.
- Avoids conflict/new experiences. Want to be taken care of.
- Current example: Binge watching Netflix with a pint of ice cream, decides the effort to transition to anything productive now is just too much effort. Will wait it out until things go back to normal.
- What you need: Empathetic listening from loved one, taking small steps, creating routine, commitment, speaking up, share your talents.
How To Remain Balanced?
Habits only take about 21 days to form; that’s about how long we’ve been dealing with this. Be honest with yourself. What kind of health or life do you want to be creating right now? We are living in unprecedented times. I get it and am really not passing judgement. We need to be gentle with ourselves. Please do not put pressure on yourself to heroically rise above, or feel inadequate for not taking on a new project, writing that novel or spring cleaning. No shoulds! But this too shall pass and I fear many people will end up with poor health, fractured relationships, and worse yet, addiction issues. This is about taking care of you and your loved ones while honoring yourself. In addition to the suggestions above, try the following:
- Present Moment Awareness: Know your patterns and witness how you are responding. Carve out time to reflect daily. Come back to Now.
- Know your triggers and what hooks you: It’s OK to read the news daily to stay informed but checking every hour is in the dysfunctional range.
- Allowing for comfort and connection in your life is essential right now but be honest, ice cream and wine every night? Hours on Facebook?
- Find stress reduction techniques that work for you, today. Don’t wait, it has already been 21 days. Join me weekly on Thursdays at noon. Work with me privately for more guidance. There are many free resources available to take advantage of. Start with your breath and a body scan for tension.
- Have an alternative activity or replacement handy when old patterns emerge. What brings you joy, energy and peace? Do that.
- Talk to loved ones about your concerns. Ask for help. We are in this together.
Ironically it is through acceptance of the present moment, that the nervous system relaxes and allows for your naturally balanced self to emerge. You don’t have to like it, but accepting the situation, your feelings, your frustrations, your worries with compassion will allow you to open to growth opportunities and navigate what lies ahead with a cool head and an open heart.
*These stress personalities are adapted from Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way by Lynn Lott and Jane Nelson.