Does knowing your stress personality type help you cope better?

What makes some of us cope well with stress? Why do some people buckle under the strain, while others thrive on the challenge or just accept life as it comes?

The answer depends partly on your past experiences of stress and partly on what techniques you use to cope.

Stress 'Personalities'

In this blog I'm going to look at “stress personality types”, which are a way of describing different attitudes to stress.
  • Type As are competitive, short tempered perfectionists who live for deadlines and timetables. They often seek out stress, believing they perform better under pressure. But they can be irritable or intolerant of others (or themselves) when they don't do as well as they think they should.
  • Type Bs are calm and laid back, generally accepting whatever comes along. If they do become stressed it is usually due to sudden or extreme external stresses like a bereavement, or moving house.
  • Type Cs bottle everything up. They seem to be coping but only because they never allow anyone to see their frustrations. It's a bit like a swan. Calm and serene on the top, paddling like mad underneath! Eventually it can all become too much, and they’ll suddenly become ill, or extremely emotional. 

What's wrong with stress personalities?

This types described above are based on a study published in the 1950s, the Type A and Type B personality theory, also known as the Jacob Goldsmith theory. (Type C was added later.) The study has been subject to a lot of criticism because it had a number of design flaws (for example, all the people studied were middle aged men, there were very unequal numbers in each group and attitude was the only difference considered).

In addition, of course, we are all individuals and we rarely fit neatly into just one of the groups. Sometimes it depends on the situation, so we might tend towards type A at work and type B at home.

And, finally, the divisions are not inevitable or fixed. Anyone can learn to cope better.

How can knowing our stress personalities help us?

Despite these shortcomings, if you think of the types as a way of describing different coping strategies (instead of describing people) they can be convenient to help us start planning a stress management programme.  When you have a problem with stress, knowing which group you are falling into in that particular situation can help you decide how to start reducing your stress.
  • If you are using Type A behaviours, look at your whole lifestyle. Learn to say NO (and mean it), improve your diet, exercise more and relax. Don’t ask how your family or business will cope without you for an hour a day. Ask how they’ll cope when you become ill and can’t do anything at all.
  • If you think of yourself as Type B, but rolling with the punches doesn't seem to be doing the job, you probably need to be more proactive. Look at what you need to do differently in your current situation, how can you change it or your own reaction to it?
  • If you are tending towards Type C you have to learn express your feelings in a helpful and constructive way. That can be a scary thought, but once the internal pressure is relieved, you can move on and leave the stress behind.
Stress can affect your ability to think clearly and plan, so enlist help if you need it. Family or friends may be able to support you but consider professional help too if the symptoms are severe.

Finally, I’ll leave you with something often known as “The Nun’s Prayer”. It’s a perfect recipe for stress management.

Lord, give me the strength to change those things that should be changed, the tolerance to endure those things that cannot be changed - and the wisdom to know the difference.


Author: is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control. Find out more on  or phone 01977 678593