Discovering Your StressType… for personalized, proven stress control
Contributed by: Richard Earle, Ph.D., Managing Director of the Canadian Institute of Stress & the Hans Selye Foundation Toronto, Canada www.stresscanada.org
Because people are different
Are you a Drifter, a Speed Freak, or perhaps a Loner when it comes to handling stress? Actually there are six StressTypes. Soon you’ll know which you are; and that’s important. Having your personalized prescription for handling stress – not a one-size-fits-all plan – is a key to keeping stress where you want it … energizing your lifestyle, not draining it.
And, best of all, my advice is based on the 24-year on-going research I originated with Dr. Hans Selye, known internationally as “the father of the stress field”.
In 1980, Dr. Selye invited me to do post-doctoral studies with him. We decided to focus on two research questions he knew we both shared …
Do any of the much touted stress management techniques actually work? and...
Since people are quite different in how they become vulnerable to stress build-up, do different people need different techniques?
The answer to both questions was a scientifically solid "Yes". First, we discovered there are five basic, proven stress control skills which should, in the proper personalized mix, be in everyone’s wellness toolkit. In descending order of their overall power, these vital skills are (1) clarifying your personal values and daily satisfiers; (2) being able to relax-at-will, anywhere, any time; (3) developing rewarding relationships; (4) high performance nutrition; and (5) essential exercise.
Answering our second question, we found that many people who started with the wrong skill actually increased their stress. For example, many in the Worry Wart StressType found that our nutritional guidelines just gave them more “food for worry”. Their most successful prescription actually started with cognitive relaxation methods followed by skills to clarify personal values and goals. These two interventions accounted for well over 70% of their stress control progress. Only later were they prepared to beef up their resilience under stress by applying our high performance nutrition advice.
Similarly, trying to teach Speed Freaks how to relax too early in our program led a number to drop out of skills training. The very thought of sometimes slowing down was acutely anxiety provoking for them. Where you start is vitally important!
To recap 24 years’ research with 89,000 over-stressed Canadians and Americans, here’s what we’ve learned. If you want a stress control program giving you deeply rooted personalized results, with no time wasted on false starts … on what might work for someone else, but not for you, then …
Personalize your stress control strategy to match your dominant StressType, focusing on the two skills you most need. They will give you 65+% of your progress.
Later, focus on your secondary StressType for the other 35%.
The science underlying your StressType
On the strength of Dr. Selye’s reputation, by 1980 the Institute’s training programs had a waiting list totaling near 1400 individuals from as far away as California and Italy, as well as Toronto. Based on pre-screening, in late1980 we began screening groups of 40 applicants to our Vitality Quotient skills training. After being profiled on our Stress Inventory System questionnaire, receiving a complete medical exam, and being tested on a five-factor Body Age Index, we selected those who, while not on continuing major medication, did qualify as (a) chronically stressed and as (b) showing a body age of at least 8 years older than their birth date age.
These research subjects then received six ½-days training in 15 of the then widely accepted stress management skills. Upon completion, each subject selected the three skills, for ongoing practice, which they believed would work best for them. Armed with a daily Action Diary, they returned to normal life, supported by twice-a-month 20-minute telephone coaching sessions with one of our staff. Four months and then eight months later they returned to the Institute for detailed de-briefs plus measurements of their progress on a panel of outcome variables, including:
Physiological measures of stress reactivity and recovery rate
Psychological measures of (inter)personal stress
Immune system strength
Full medical exam, including lab work
Body Age Index
Visits to family doctor; work absences; prescription drug use
Plus ten other factors
The six StressTypes, the six clusters of traits that make people so very different in their response to stress, lay waiting to be discovered in the mountains of screening data we had collected by 1988 on over 6400 subjects. You’ll likely recognize yourself as you read on to meet the StressTypes and learn about their prescriptions in just several minutes.
Which skills work best for which stressType became solidly clear as we analyzed the “four and eight months later” data from our subjects’ outcome factors. Some (9%) had dropped out within several months; others (34%) had made significant progress; while others (57%) had outstanding results in reducing
both their stress and their body age scores. For the science-minded, “outstanding” meant scores showing greater than one full standard deviation improvement.
Which skills made the difference? Within each of the six StressTypes, we compared the most outstanding individuals against their least successful counterparts. The results … the skills making the biggest differences … are summarized as “focus for action” as you “Meet the StressTypes” below. But, first, what exactly are the results you can achieve when you focus on your personalized StressType?
Results – Lower stress, slower aging
Between 1988 and 1993, each of the 3224 new participants in our Vitality Quotient training program were taking action on their completely individualized prescriptions, targeting their primary and secondary StressTypes. You can imagine our pleasure, and theirs, when they returned for their four and eight months follow-up check-ups. Here are the most important improvements we tracked with them.
Progress ... At 4 Months At 8 Months
Body age decrease 3.5 years 11.4 years
Days absent from work decrease 42% 56%
Doctor's office visit decrease 28% 53%
Below target blood pressure 51% 91%
Immunoglobulin A increase 24% 31%
T cells increase 21% 28%
Triglycerides within target range 43% 64%
Comfort with self [6 factors] increase 41% 62%
Depressed / anxious mood improvement 32% 68%
Stress hyper-reactivity down ** 41% 49%
Stress recovery time down ** 28% 38%
Ability to relax at will increase ** 17% 37%
** based on EMG and GSR physical measures
Knowing and then acting on your unique StressType make-up makes a big difference; not just in superior and lasting results, but even more so on your ability to focus your self-management on your top priorities. “Getting more bang for my wellness buck”, is how one New York City lady described the time she invested in travelling to Toronto.
And, this greater efficiency from helping people focus in on their unique StressType action plan also shows up in our workplace training. Rather than having to sit through a full-day workshop, waiting for the “that’s for me” pieces, corporate employees now attend a motivating 90-minute briefing, complete their V.Q. profile online, and then sign up for the two 90-minute skills training classes they most need. Results are better, and time off the job is cut almost in half.
Harnessing your StressType
As you get to know your StressType, and then begin personalizing your stress control, you will discover you now have the most powerful success factor needed in any wellness plan … stronger, more focused motivation. You can now pinpoint your unique vulnerabilities. And, by seeing your stumbling blocks, you become more energized to transform them into stepping stones for action.
Meet the StressTypes
To give you a quick, hands-on familiarity with them, I’m going to introduce each of the six StressTypes this way … (1) how you can recognize them; (2) which two skills are proven to help them best control their stress; (3) root causes that make them tick; plus (4) key actions resulting in lower stress and slower aging.
(1) Speed Freaks
(2) Worry Warts
(5 ) Basket cases
(6) Cliff walkers