Stress and family

Remember that case study about Bob on the homepage? We can all relate to some version of this, even if you don’t live with anybody, you may find yourself being short tempered with your pets, your neighbors, even inanimate objects like your TV remote and various walls/doors. When we aren’t stressed out, we may chuckle at the image of getting angry at a TV remote, but this is a clear warning sign that things are already spiraling out of control . . . but it’s not too late to get it together.

Lashing out, burning out, bummed out

Our friend Bob from the case study is a great example of lasing out. We’ve all been there. And there’s a perfectly sound explanation for why it happens, and how to prevent, or at least minimize it.

Each of the 16 personality types identified by the Myers-Briggs has a “Preferred personality type” (these are the letters you see in your results: INFP, ESTJ, etc), and a “Shadow personalty type.”  When we lash out, we often don’t feel like “our usual self” or “not at our best.” This is a very accurate way of explaining it. Let’s look at why:

Preferred personality type

Your preferred personality type is exactly what it sounds like: your preferred self . . . who you usually are when things are OK. Each of the 4 letters of your preferred type represents a preferred personality trait. INFP would be:


These traits live in our conscious mind, the part of our brain (the pre-frontal cortex) where we have the most conscious control, so we are able to practice and master these traits. This, however, does not mean that we don’t have traits of the other options–they are in there as well; our preferred type just means that we tend to lean in that direction, but we can certainly call up the others in a variety of situations. Sometimes, however, they get called up when we’d rather they didn’t; because we’re just not as good at them. This brings us to our Shadow personality.

Shadow personality type

When you are stressed out, your brain is having to work those preferred traits in overdrive, and at some point they simply run out of juice; they burn out. Literally, the neurons are no longer able to send and receive the electrical/chemical impulses as efficiently as when we aren’t stressed out. What happens is we are relegated to our less conscious personality traits.

These less conscious traits live in the more unconscious part of our brain where we have much less conscious access to them, and therefore are less able to practice and master them. So, we are more clumsy with them; we are just not as good at wielding them.

This means that we wind up becoming the exact OPPOSITE of our Preferred personality type! And it doesn’t stop there (this next part ought to ring a bell for pretty much everybody). We become the obnoxious, immature version of our opposite type: this is our Shadow personality! It resides in the dark recesses of our unconscious mind. And since it’s unconscious, by definition, we often do not even realize that we are there until we are either already through it, or if somebody points it out in a way that we can receive. So the Shadow of INFP is ESTJ:

Judging (this does not mean Judgmental, it just means tending to make judgment calls)

For example, an INFP (Preferred type) . . . often called a “Healer” type. But when stressed out, INFP’s become ESTJ’s, often called “Engineer” types. Now ESTJ is a wonderful type for those who have it as their Preferred type . . . but for INFP’s become obnoxious, micromanaging, know-it-all’s that can’t listen worth a flip! This is why we hear things like, “this isn’t like you,” or “who are you??”

It’s not difficult to see that just one family member being in their Shadow type can make home life quite challenging. Now imagine if others are in their Shadow types as well! This where we get chaos. What do we do about chaos you ask? We bring some structure to it. Structure helps us get things back on track again. The structure is not rigid though. It needs to be flexible enough to accommodate the whole family.

What to do

Slow down. Take a 20 minute break. Do things that your Stress Relief Report encourage you to do. These are customized recommendations for your unique personality. When you cultivate a new way of doing things, it takes repetition to get to set as a new habit, so don’t lose faith if it doesn’t stick right up front. This is precisely why we print your report and encourage you to give copies to others in your family . . . there are specific instructions about what to do for you when you’re stressed out.

Slow down your breathing

This can be a tough one, but it is important to practice it: Practice smooth, slow, diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing). This literally slows your brain waves down to a more efficient state. In the beginning, it’s tough to recognize that it is working, but it is measurable, and within six in-out breaths you are already showing slower brain waves. All we need is a little window into slowing down. It helps give us a little brain boost where we can practice responding to stress rather than reacting to it (see a section on this below). When we respond, it is more of a conscious process, whereas reacting is often unconscious, almost like a reflex.

Move your thoughts towards compassion and understanding

It is fine to be annoyed or angry, but if you find yourself being unnecessarily hurtful to those you care about, try having some compassion for yourself. Yes, for yourself. Give yourself a break–acknowledge that you’re in a legitimately tough place and that it’s normal to not be at your best during times of stress. Once you feel like you’ve given yourself permission to be human and grumpy, move that compassion to include those you love. Understand that they may have had a difficult day as well, or that they may be trying to help (remember our friend Bob from the case study? And his son cooking dinner?). Sometimes, what one person finds helpful for their own stress, actually makes another person’s stress worse. This is another place where Stress Relief Austin can help.

Tell your loved ones what you need

Be specific. It’s OK to have some intensity in your voice; we’ve all been there. So, even if you sound annoyed, let your wife, husband, children, friends etc. know that you’re in a tough place and could use their help by giving you space, letting you watch your favorite show uninterrupted etc. Please understand that sometimes, what you want may not be possible. For situations like this, please talk to us about more in depth planning. It may sound difficult, and sometimes it is, but it is manageable.

In any event, as best you can, communicate with those around you; depending on your type, you may then need some alone time (Introverts), or you may need to go be around some neutral people, or just in a public place where you don’t really have to interact with people (Extroverts).

Use the Stress Relief Plan that you are given by us!

This is literally an instruction manual for how to manage stress for your unique personality type! We will help you dial in the specifics, and fine tune it as you go along.

Reacting vs. Responding

“Kids, be nice to your mom . . . she’s had a long day at work and really needs us to help out.” Here’s a great example of a husband and father who is responding to his wife’s stress, rather than reacting to it. Now the tricky part can be learning how to respond (vs react) to your own stress. The key is early recognition of the signs of stress. Again, each personality type has it’s own unique signs of stress (although there is overlap: INFJ and INFP will share a good number of signs of stress).

Signs of stress

Some general stress signs are:

  • Irritibility
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling distracted
  • Racing thoughts
  • Stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Tense muscles, especially in the back, shoulders and head
  • Change in appetite; some people stress-eat whereas others may forget to eat
  • Insomnia and/or difficulty staying asleep
  • Being clumsy
  • Forgetfulness, confusion

Again, this is only a general list, and is by no means complete. Please get in touch with us to find out exactly what your stress signs are.