The Stress Personalities

Some people seem to be more susceptible to stress situations than others. There could by any number of reasons for one person being more stressed than another. However, stress situations often get exaggerated in the individual's own imagination. Whether an individual is labouring under imagined stress or is really getting flattened out, the effect of stress is seen in a number of ways. The early feature of almost all stress disorders is a generalized neurotic phenomenon. The level of anxiety scale gets elevated and so does the blood acetylcholine content. Irritability, sleeplessness, nervous-ness, palpitation, apprehension and worry may be accompanied by fine tremors in hands. The subject would also become extremely nervous if asked to face an emergency or a crisis situation. One or all of these symptoms may be present in an individual, depending upon the personality characteristics and the severity of stress.

Continued onslaughts of stressful situations leave the nervous system of an individual overactive. He now becomes more irritable and is assailed by the anxiety of some impending calamity. Under continued exposure to stress, the subject now passes from the psychic stage to the psychosomatic stage. In this second stage, along with the above generalized disturbances, he may also suffer from hypertension. From the psychosomatic stage the subject now passes on to the somatic or the third stage. In this stage, his organs become hyperactive, especially the target organ or the organ which is under the full impact of the stress. It is at the fourth or the organic stage that the 'weakest link' i.e., the target organ would become prone to disease.

The psychological interpretation of an external stimulus is as intricate as the individual's own personality make up. We see different things and interpret or interact differently. It all depends upon our heredity, family outlook, education, experience and so on. The environment in which we have been brought up and in which we have been conditioned, also plays a significant part in our ability or inability to cope with stress. Some of us may be so sensitive that we are easily aroused by stress at all levels, while others may be so tolerant of stress, as they are of other things in life, that they are capable of laughing off a stressful situation.

Imagination can also play a diabolic role. The more imaginative we are, the more vividly can we imagine a hundred and one things that could go wrong. Remember, it is the perfectionist who seems to be uncertain about anything, and therefore, is perpetually 'stressed' by constantly bracing himself.

Researchers have provided links between stress, the type of personality, the coping style and the individual immune system on the one hand, and the nature of illness on the other. Based upon such findings, a personality portrait of a typical rheumatoid arthritic has even been constructed - as rather shy, inhibited, self-sacrificing, perfectionist, incapable of expressing anger and hostility, and often troubled by tensions.

Another target for stress diseases is what is known as the type 'A' personality with the typical behaviours of hurried speech, constant, rapid movement, rapid eating, impatience at the slowness of things, time urgency, thinking, performing several things at once, attempting to dominate conversation, preoccupation with one's own thoughts when others are talking, feeling guilty during relaxation, over concern to get things worth having, or to become what is worth becoming, no consideration for other type A's, and exhibition of characteristic nervous gestures, such as tics, clenching of fist and jaw, pounding on table and grinding of teeth.

The stress personality can be broadly classified into four groups. The first group is made up of what can be called as the 'early panickers', people who get pushed into stressful situations even when it is not warranted, or who get stressed by insignificant events. Soon, it becomes second nature and they are perpetually stressed.

The 'normals' make up the second group, the largest as most people fall into this category. They face stressful situations up to a point, after which, they have to find some outlet for their energies.

The third group of 'professionals' remain calm and collected in the face of stress, and keep planning how to cope with the stressful situation rather than panic or allow themselves to be swamped by it. This quality places them at the helm of affairs as leaders of men, and as successful managers or entrepreneurs.

The fourth group, the 'players' actually look forward to facing stress. To them, stress is the spice of life and they take delight in engineering stressful conditions for themselves and for others. People from the creative fields, such as arts, music, painting, theatre, etc. are normally to be found in this group.

However, Richard S. Lazarus, author of Psychological Stress And The Coping Process does not agree with the attempt to categorize people in terms of 'stress personalities' because each individual reacts to a specific stress in a highly individualistic way. Therefore he argues, that the norms we tend to set up really do not reveal much about the individual variations. Lazarus questions the validity of the popularly accepted concept of the type 'A' behaviour and also of the Social Readjustment Rating Scale developed by two U.S. doctors, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe. With the help of the scale, the doctors attempt to assess life changes in terms of the degree of adaptation each requires. For example, the death of spouse is at the head of the scale with 100 points, followed by 43 other 'significant' life events. It could be argued that in a specific case, the death of a spouse may not be as stressful an event as the death of a pet.

Personality, according to yoga, is determined by the three gunas or qualities - sattwic, rajasic and tamasic. These three gunas are present in every individual, but in different proportions with one guna being predominant. The sattwic man is called divyabhava or god-like. The truly sattwic man, however, is as rare a being as a great yogi, sage or saint. If rajas is predominating, then the person is said to be virabhava or hero-like. And, if tamas predominates, then he is known as pashubhava or animal like. Most of us are either virabhava or pashu bhava. And, it is the rajasic and the tamasic personalities that are susceptible to stress.

The rajasic personality is dynamic and a man of the world. He is given to boisterity, a hostile attitude, angry reaction, restless nature and resembles the type 'A' personality in most respects. All these traits tend to create stressful situations or make the individual react violently to stress.

The tamasic guna induces lethargy, ignorance, indecision, international lewdness, grief, vice and a lack of self-awareness. Tamas predisposes one to anxiety associated with depression and low energy. Irrespective of the predominant guna, no man is purely sattwic, rajasic or tamasic. Various combinations of these gunas exist within each of the five body sheaths - annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, jnanamaya kosha, manomaya kosha and anandamaya kosha.