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Personality and stress

A person’s reaction to stress is determined to a great extent by his or her personality. Personality traits reflect the sum total of the way we habitually think, feel and behave in a given situation. "There are certain personality traits which make a person more susceptible to stress," say psychiatrists from the Department of Psychiatry​ at Singapore General Hospital​ (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

  1. Obsessional personality

    These individuals are perfectionists and set high standards for themselves and others. They are rigid and react poorly to changes in their living environment.

  2. Anxious personality

  3. This person is a worrier who gets anxious over minor problems. He or she often overestimates the magnitude of his problems and underestimates his or her coping abilities.

  4. Type A personality

  5. The Type A personality was first described by 2 cardiologists - Friedman and Rosenman - who noted that individuals with such personalities were more susceptible to suffer from heart attacks. Typical Type A persons are ambitious, impatient, hard driving, competitive, have great sense of time urgency, often perform 2 or more tasks simultaneously, are restless, hostile, evaluate people or events in a suspicious manner, and are irritable.

Stress reactions - are they automatic and inevitable?

Stressors do not automatically lead to stress reactions. Different people react differently to the same stressors. Why is this so? The answer lies in the perception of the situation. We have seen that whether a person feels stressed depends on whether he thinks or perceives he can cope with the situation.

Perceptions

Perception of one’s ability to cope depends on certain factors such as personality, intelligence, the role of teachers, parents, childhood experiences, one’s coping skills and social support. Our personality influences the way we habitually think, feel and react to stressful situations.

Case Study 1 - The influence of negative perceptions

Cheng was given a difficult task by his immediate superior. Thoughts such as “I’m sure to fail”, “He’s all out to make life miserable for me” and “People can’t be trusted” caused him to perceive that he had inadequate coping resources and could expect little help from others. Understandably he felt stressed.

On the other hand, Leong interpreted the same situation differently, telling himself: “I will try my best”, “I have performed the task before, I should be able to do it again” and “Even though I made mistakes, I am now wiser and have learnt not to make the same mistakes”. While Leong tackled the assignment confidently and accomplished his goals, Cheng became easily discouraged, postponed carrying out his duties, made careless mistakes, and earned the displeasure of his superior.

See the previous page to learn about the​ ​sources of stress.​

Ref: W09