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Last updated: February 17, 2009

THE OVERSTRESS-PRONE PERSONALITY

By Nita Catterton



Are you constantly rushed? Do you try to do as much as possible in the least amount of time? Do you do everything fast – walk, talk, eat and drive? Do you constantly check your watch and even own a back-up watch in case your first watch breaks? Are you impatient with waiting or with interruptions? Do you hate to lose at games? If many of these traits describe you, experts would probably call you an “Overstress-prone Personality.” They might also say you’re exhibiting “Type A Behavior” or “Hurry Sickness”. The three key characteristics of this personality are:

1. Intense Drive to Advance, Succeed, Accomplish
2. Chronic Time Urgency
3. Impatience

It is controversial as to whether Type A Behavior is genetic or learned behavior. It is defined as a faster and more intense reaction to a stimuli. Jimmy Conners is an example of a person who responds very quickly. He can actually see a tennis ball and put the picture on his brain faster than many others – a great advantage for a tennis player.

There are many other examples of someone exhibiting Type A Behavior. The process they use to work on something is quite different. For example, Type As and Type Bs have been shown to take tests differently. Type A’s move through a test very fast then keep going back and changing things repeatedly. Type B’s go through the test just once and don’t change anything. Both finish in the same amount of time and the neither process determines how well one does on a test.

Type A people often have unexplained bruises. They think they are uncoordinated or non-athletic. This is because they’re always in such a hurry that they are not taking the time to cue in to their environment. They simply run into things a lot! A Type A person tends to be a list maker – they like to be sure they are not missing anything and love to know they are getting things done. A Type A person can’t describe what it means to ‘do nothing’ and the idea of it doesn’t appeal to them at all. They choose restaurants for the fastest service and bank lines by the fastest teller. At work, they hate group projects; and often have problems with delegating.

Some research points to anger as the most important component to Type A behavior. Type A behavior expert, Meyer Friedman describes a free-floating hostility. This is when someone is not angry at a particular person or thing but just wishes the world could get its act together. It is unattached anger looking for a target. Redford Williams, a researcher from Duke, has studied the role anger plays in heart disease and the triggering effect of anger which can lead to a heart attack. This is one reason why it’s important to try to control Type A behavior. There are several ways you might do this:

1. Even if it means getting up earlier, try to start the day relaxed. Take time to have breakfast and do some gentle stretching.
2. Figure out what’s really important and concentrate on that. Focus on one thing at a time.
3. Leave room for the unexpected in your schedule.
4. Take stress-reduction breaks and plan ‘fun’ time.
5. Have lunch and do not eat at your desk.
6. At the end of the day, organize your work for the next day.

It’s not easy to alter behavior. Give yourself time and choose only a few goals at a time. Remember: Only a corpse is completely finished!

Are you uncertain if you would qualify as a Type A or overstress-prone personality? Following is an easy reference list of personality type characteristics for Type A and Type B. Then there is a Pace of Life Index – a little quiz to help you determine your level of hurry sickness.



PERSONALITY-TYPE CHARACTERISTICS

Type A Type B
Time Sense “Hurry Sickness.” Time conscious, punctual, sense of urgency, impatient Realistic, less concerned.
Time Frame Short-term Longer View
Speech Fast, emphatic, interrupting Slower, softer
Attitude Toward future Worry Relaxed
Personality Driving, aggressive Relaxed
Typical Work Sales Decision-making position
Relax With guilt Without guilt
Natural work pace Stressful Non-stressful
Emphasis Having; preoccupation with number Being
Reaction to stress symptoms Ignore Recognize and reduce
Temper Easily angered Slow to anger
Career pattern Early success, early peak, burn-out Slower, steady, sustained success
Work/Play style Anxious to lead, competition Team player, fun, relaxation
Habits Smoke, drink, overeat, drive fast, sleep poorly, take pills, little relaxation Moderation, rest, exercise, relaxation, recreation
Social Anxious for advancement and recognition Casual
Patience Little Average
Activity Fast; several simultaneous activities Normal, one thing at a time
John L. Roglieri, MD Odds on Your Life, New York: Seaview Books, 1980


PACE OF LIFE INDEX
Please indicate how often each of the following applies to you in daily life.

Always/Usually   Sometimes   Seldom/Never
(3 pts.) (2 pts.) (1 pt.)


1. Do you find yourself rushing your speech?
2. Do you hurry other people’s speech by interrupting them with “umha, umhim” or by completing their sentences for them?
3. Do you hate to wait in line?
4. Do you seem to be short of time to get everything done? 5. Do you detest wasting time?
6. Do you eat fast?
7. Do you drive over the speed limit?
8. Do you try to do more than one thing at a time?
9. Do you become impatient if others do something too slowly?
10. Do you seem to have little time to relax and enjoy the time of day?
11. Do you find yourself over-committed?
12. Do you jiggle your knees or tap your fingers?
13. Do you think about other things during conversations?
14. Do you walk fast?
15. Do you hate dawdling after a meal?
16. Do you become irritable if kept waiting?
17. Do you detest losing in sports and games
18. Do you find yourself with clenched fists or tight neck or jaw muscles?
19. Does your concentration sometimes wander while you think about what’s coming up later?
20. Are you a competitive person?

Count number of boxes checked in each column:
Totals:


Add column totals to find your total score:
Scoring:

45-60 High Hurry Sickness
35-44 Medium Hurry Sickness
20-34 Low Hurry Sickness

From Walt Schafer, Stress, Distress, and Growth; Davis, California: Responsible Action, Inc. 1978.