How we handle stress varies by individual, and part of that issue has to do with our personality type. Type a personalities, as defined by the Jenkins Activity Survey,Jenkins, C. D., Zyzanski, S., & Rosenman, R. (1979). Jenkins activity survey manual. New York: Psychological Corporation. display high levels of speed/impatience, job involvement, and hard-driving competitiveness. If you think back to Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome, in which unchecked stress can lead to illness over time, it’s easy to see how the fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping lifestyle of a Type A person can lead to increased stress, and research supports this view.Spector, P. E., & O’Connell, B. J. (1994). The contribution of personality traits, negative affectivity, locus of control and Type A to the subsequent reports of job stressors and job strains. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 67, 1–11. Studies show that the hostility and hyper-reactive portion of the Type A personality is a major concern in terms of stress and negative organizational outcomes.Ganster, D. C. (1986). Type A behavior and occupational stress. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 8, 61–84.
Type b personalities, by contrast, are calmer by nature. They think through situations as opposed to reacting emotionally. Their fight-or-flight and stress levels are lower as a result. Our personalities are the outcome of our life experiences and, to some degree, our genetics. Some researchers believe that mothers who experience a great deal of stress during pregnancy introduce their unborn babies to high levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol in utero, predisposing their babies to a stressful life from birth.BBC News. (2007, January 26). Stress “harms brain in the womb.” Retrieved May 23, 2008, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6298909.stm.
Men and women also handle stress differently. Researchers at Yale University discovered estrogen may heighten women’s response to stress and their tendency to depression as a result.Weaver, J. (2004, January 21). Estrogen makes the brain more vulnerable to stress. Yale University Medical News. Retrieved May 23, 2008, from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-01/yu-emt012104.php. Still, others believe that women’s stronger social networks allow them to process stress more effectively than men.Personality types impact on response to stress. (n.d.). Retrieved June 5, 2008, from the Discovery Health Web site: http://health.discovery.com/centers/stress/articles/pnstress/pnstress.html. So while women may become depressed more often than men, women may also have better tools for countering emotion-related stress than their male counterparts.
As we all know, stress can build up. Advice that’s often given is to "let it all out" with something like a cathartic "good cry." But research shows that crying may not be as helpful as the adage would lead us to believe. In reviewing scientific studies done on crying and health, Ad Vingerhoets and Jan Scheirs found that the studies “yielded little evidence in support of the hypothesis that shedding tears improves mood or health directly, be it in the short or in the long run.” Another study found that venting actually increased the negative effects of negative emotion.Brown, S. P., Westbrook, R. A., & Challagalla, G. (2005). Good cope, bad cope: Adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies following a critical negative work event. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 792–798.
Instead, laughter may be the better remedy. Crying may actually intensify the negative feelings, because crying is a social signal not only to others but to yourself. “You might think, ‘I didn’t think it was bothering me that much, but look at how I’m crying—I must really be upset,’” says Susan Labott of the University of Toledo. The crying may make the feelings more intense. Labott and Randall Martin of Northern Illinois University at Dekalb surveyed 715 men and women and found that at comparable stress levels, criers were more depressed, anxious, hostile, and tired than those who wept less. Those who used humor were the most successful at combating stress. So, if you’re looking for a cathartic release, opt for humor instead: Try to find something funny in your stressful predicament.
Stress is prevalent in today’s workplaces. The General Adaptation Syndrome consists of alarm, resistance, and eventually exhaustion if the stress goes on for too long. Time pressure is a major stressor. Outcomes of stress include both psychological and physiological problems as well as work outcomes. Individuals with Type B personalities are less prone to stress. In addition, individuals with social support experience less stress.
We’ve just seen how the three phases of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) can play out in terms of physical stresses such as cold and hunger. Can you imagine how the three categories of this model might apply to work stress as well?
List two situations in which a prolonged work challenge might cause an individual to reach the second and third stage of GAS.
What can individuals do to help manage their time better? What works for you?
What symptoms of stress have you seen in yourself or your peers?