One of the reasons people do not always recognise that there is too much stress in their lives, is that they don’t understand their own response to it. People react in different ways, and knowing how you react is a good way to understand the warning signs. When I worked in Zambia, I knew that when I spent the evenings going round apologising for how I treated people during the day, it was time to go on holiday.
One of the key determinants in anyone’s response to stress is whether they are introvert or extravert. Many people don’t know which they are, and sometimes people assume that because they are shy or lacking in social confidence they are introvert, or that if they’re outgoing, they’re extravert. But that’s not necessarily true.
A quick and easy way to tell your ‘version’ is to ask yourself what you feel like doing at the end of a busy week. A week you’ve worked late every evening to hit a deadline. A week when a sick child has kept you up every night. A week when crisis has followed crisis and you haven’t had time to eat properly. And now it’s Friday, and it’s all over. What do you feel like doing? Getting a few friends together and going out for a meal, or do you want to shut your door and read a book by yourself?
By and large, extraverts want to gather their friends around them, because they recharge their batteries in community. Introverts would rather be alone, since solitude provides them with the space they need to recuperate. Neither is right or wrong, they’re just different, and knowing which you are will help you interpret your behaviour when you’re under stress. It’s particularly important that couples understand each other’s response to stress, since if one wants to talk while the other wants to hide, there can be significant relationship problems.
So if you find yourself locking the door, turning off the phone, and pretending you’re not at home, that could be perfectly normal behaviour for you. Likewise spending an evening at a café till it closes might be your way of managing the stress. But if you find yourself doing this every single night, it’s a warning that you’re under more stress than you can reasonably cope with, and that’s when you need to do something about it.
Next month: tools for self-analysis