Personality is one of the many factors that collectively influence the vulnerability to stress, as well as the ability to cope with stress. Personality characteristics contribute to the emotional intensity felt and to the chosen coping strategies. Your personality also influences the circumstances and environments which you choose to expose yourself to. You might, for example, feel that you get stressed easily and choose to cope with the stress by avoiding all situations that could potentially be stressful and threatening to you. A more proactive, ambitious and competitive individual, will purposely seek more demanding situations in which s/he can challenge themselves and achieve more success and personal growth. The perception of the stressor as a challenge not a threat changes the thoughts, emotions and reaction to the stressor.
Each personality dimension impacts your reactions to stress differently. Being very dependable, persistent, loyal, honest, ambitious, determined, meticulous, logical, self-disciplined, well-organized and dutiful are characteristics that belong to the Conscientiousness dimension. High consciousness relates to coping efficiently with stress by accepting responsibility, applying problem solving and emotional coping strategies. It implies a deliberate, planned, prioritized and active approach to dealing with difficult situations rather than procrastination, avoidance, mental and behavioural escapism e.g. alcohol, self-medicating and drugs. This positive attitude and approach to the stressors help enhance emotion regulation, a sense of control, not to mention the reduction of stress. When you also believe in your own abilities to overcome and achieve the desirable result, then the level of stress experienced will be low and manageable. Having these qualities also implies that you will be less impulsive, thus the exposure to uncontrollable, unpredictable, risky situations, which might cause more stress and negative emotions in your life is also limited.
The personality traits that are associated with high Extraversion are being out-going, talkative, assertive, cheerful, dominant, optimistic, energetic, adventurous, confident and pleasure seeking. Having these equalities is extremely beneficial when coping with stress as you will be more proactive and optimistic in your approach to the stressor. Positive emotions, energy, optimism and confidence are also required to begin and continuing the coping efforts. Being very open and actively seeking social support and resources will strengthen you in dealing with the stressor. It will increase the sense of control, positive thinking and self- efficacy that you have. Knowing that you have a support system that is available to you and which will provide you with what you need, will decrease the level of threat perceived and thus you will also experience less stress.
Neuroticism represents individual differences in the ability to experience and regulate negative distressing emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, guilt etc. A high score on the neuroticism dimension is linked to being anxious, worrying, hesitating, moody, irritable, depressed and pessimistic. There is less emotional control and stability. When you also have the tendency to focus on the negative aspects of a situation and ignore positives and /or to predict negative outcomes rather than a positive or neutral, almost every somewhat difficult situation will be perceived as stressful, threatening and emotionally strenuous. The emotional and physical reactions become more intense and are relentlessly present. Having high neuroticism will imply that you are more likely to cope with stress by avoidance, withdrawal, behavioural inhibition, self -blame and escapism rather than problem solving, social support seeking and other active coping strategies, which individuals with lower neuroticism may choose.
If you describe yourself as being intellectually curious, creative, innovative, inquisitive, imaginative, resourceful, reflective, analytical and critical then you probably score highly on the Openness dimension. Individuals, who have high openness often turn to spiritualism to seek comfort and find a higher meaning in the difficult and overwhelming events of their lives. It helps to sooth distress and gain a sense of purpose, which contributes to resilience. Theoretically being insightful, intellectual, analytic and having the willingness to face and explore new ideas should increase coping abilities with stress, as being exposed to the unfamiliar, unexpected and non-conventional would not be perceived as very stressful, however, research finding have yet to confirm that high openness is actually beneficial to coping with stress. Extraversion, conscientiousness and openness, thus influence the ability to perceive difficulties as challenges and to evaluate coping abilities and resources more positively, which reduces stress, regulates emotions and enhances well -being.
Being trusting, altruistic, forgiving, caring, tolerant, flexible and thoughtful are characteristics that are associated with the last personality dimension of Agreeableness. Being sociable enables to receive and give social support. A strong social network can be a fantastic buffer against life’s stressors and reduce vulnerability to stress. Agreeableness is also positively associated with emotion-focused coping strategies and positive reappraisal of stressful events, which improves coping with stress. High agreeableness often leads to compliance, which reduces interpersonal conflict and social stress but it is also harmful to the self-esteem and personal growth.
The combinations of the personality dimensions create the uniqueness of each individual. The level of a certain dimension can change over time. If, for example, neuroticism decreases due to therapy then the tolerance will be higher and the distress, anxiety and stress felt, will be less intense and frequent. A rise of Conscientiousness will increase motivation and the inclination to apply more problem solving strategies, which will reduce stress. Having certain personality qualities thus can be very beneficial to coping with stress or in turn it can diminish the abilities to cope with stress. Nevertheless, a prolonged exposure to high stress levels would have negative consequences on the mental status regardless of personality dimensions, appraisals, coping strategies and self-efficacy. The variations are more in the extent of the impact of the stress on the psychological and physical well-being.
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