If you are someone with a type A personality, there’s a good chance you are also someone who lives with stress. All that drive can be a good thing, pushing you to achieve your goals and accomplish difficult tasks—some of the most successful people in the world including Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart have been described as having type A personality traits. Your intensity may have served you well up until now, but there are definite downsides, and the need for stress management is at the top of the list. In addition to increasing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and anxiety, elevated levels of stress have been linked to depression, obesity, asthma and Alzheimer’s disease.
The problem for type As is that many stress management techniques run counter to your very nature. Try the tips below to find something that suits your temperament and actually taps into certain aspects of your personality—your active disposition, your ability to stay organized, your busy social life. Use them to gain success over your stress.
Meditation and deep breathing are proven stress relievers, shown to lower blood pressure and levels of adrenaline in the body. But for someone with a type A personality, listening to soothing sounds in a darkened room with nothing to think about but quieting your mind can feel like torture. There’s no need for you to put yourself through it: Shorter moments of meditation—even as little as three minutes—can slow down brain waves and create a feeling of calm. And if you’d rather not sit still, get up and move!
Exercise is a great stress-buster for type A personalities because it naturally works with your go-go nature. Engaging in physical activity boosts your brain’s production of feel-good chemicals like endorphins, which helps to bring your stress levels down. And as for quieting your mind, intense physical activity gives your brain something else to focus on.
Schedule in Some Stress Relief
You may have heard that limiting the amount of time you spend “plugged in” can help reduce your stress. And there is evidence to suggest that our increased and sometimes constant connection to our work (and the world at large) through computers, smartphones and tablets is contributing to rising stress levels. But taking that connection away can also be stressful, particularly for people who place a high priority on working hard and staying organized.
Rather than ditching your devices, pick up a new one. Biofeedback relies on electrodes attached to the skin that monitor your reactions to certain stressors. The goal of biofeedback is to teach you how to alter the way your body reacts to these stressors. While sessions often happen in a doctor’s office, there are home training devices you can buy that monitor changes in muscle tension, keep track of your skin temperature and more. You can use the information they provide to make stress-reducing changes, such as synchronizing your breath with your heart rate, for example.
As for the devices you already own, try using them to schedule in some stress-relieving activities. That means typing things like “take a walk at lunch” or “be home at six o’clock for dinner.” Adding these ‘non-essential’ activities to your calendar can seem odd at first, and the temptation may be to treat them as less important than more pressing deadlines. But try it for a week and note the difference in how you feel. And for a quick dose of distraction and relaxation whenever you need one, try downloading a relaxation app. There are a variety to choose from, offering breathing exercises, white noise and even virtual rock gardens that you tend with your fingertips. With time, stress breaks can become an important (and cherished) part of your daily routine.
Slow Your Response Time
One of the advantages to being a type A personality is an ability to think on your feet. Reacting on your feet, however, can be less helpful, leading to hurt feelings, miscommunication and escalated tension.
The next time you feel yourself getting angry, overwhelmed or frustrated by a situation, take a step back: Try allowing yourself 10 deep breaths before doing anything else. This isn’t easy, particularly if you are prone to strong, immediate reactions, but taking a brief mental break can help you get your emotions in check. If you can’t manage a full 10 breaths, start with three—even just one minute spent focused on your breathing can lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
It’s true that certain techniques, like meditation, focused breathing and journaling, require you to turn inward and are performed by yourself, but stress relief doesn’t need to be a solitary activity. Many people with type A personalities thrive in social settings, so if one of the ways you blow off steam is meeting up with friends after a long and stressful day at work, that’s actually good for you (just be sure to monitor your cocktail consumption).
Research indicates that having a strong social network not only minimizes stress, it also fosters a sense of belonging, boosts self-esteem and offers a healthy dose of security. And if you are looking to grow your social network while still reducing stress, consider volunteering. A study of the effect of altruistic behavior on mental health showed reduced stress levels in people enjoyed dedicating a few hours of their time to caring for others.