Stress kind of seems like the modern-day plague sometimes, doesn't it? It's inescapable, and it makes you feel like crap, when you get right down to it. And when you're juggling long work days, side-hustle projects, and family or social obligations, finding time to get centered seems like just another task on the to-do list. But the thing is, stress management should be something that's at the top of your priorities, not just for the sake of avoiding constant chaos, but also because stress can change your personality, if it really starts affecting you day in and day out — and a change in personality is the kind of thing that makes you pause and take one of those deep, heavy, exhaustive belly breaths, doesn't it? Yeah, same. But I promise you, it's something that you totally have the power to control and change — but it might take a little work on your part.
According to Dr. Jodi Ashbrook, founder and CEO of ZenLeader, stress can affect your personality, and even your behaviors, in both a short- and long-term sense: "Stress can absolutely alter your personality in the short-term, and your character in the long-run, if it's not managed properly," she tells Elite Daily.
In the short-term, Dr. Ashbrook says, stress can challenge you on an emotional level, making you feel frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, helpless, and even lost.
Yep, I think we've all definitely been there.
Dr. Ashbrook adds that the negative energy that comes from stress can make you feel more irritable and less patient, which robs you of the ability to enjoy the important things in life that truly make you feel fulfilled.
She also points out that stress is pretty contagious, and when you think about it, it totally makes sense. Have you ever been around someone, whether it was a friend, family member, or co-worker, who's going through a total meltdown, and even though their issues have nothing to do with you, you start freaking out, too, and you don't even know why? Yeah, according to Dr. Ashbrook, stress just does that to us sometimes.
According to Dr. Ashbrook, the first step to reigning in your stress levels is identifying what it is, exactly, that makes you freak out in the first place.
"Be aware of the external stressors around you," she tells Elite Daily, "which can manifest itself in frustration, anger, or a negative pull for things that may be completely out of your control."
Next, she explains, it's important to forgive yourself for feeling this way, rather than make yourself feel guilty. After all, she says, you're only human.
"It's normal to feel overwhelmed, but it's important to analyze the root of the cause for your stress, so you can better understand what is within your control, and take action accordingly to find some relief," Dr. Ashbrook tells Elite Daily.
Rather than feeding into the negative energy, Dr. Ashbrook suggests "elevating yourself" from the emotional situation by engaging in activities that may help you clear your mind. Her personal faves are yoga and meditation, and as you might already know, these two things are pretty reliable when it comes to relieving stress.
She also recommends watching out for other people's stressors, because again, that tension can definitely be contagious sometimes. However, she says, it's still important to maintain a healthy distance from other people's stress: Just because you can identify what's causing someone else to feel bent out of shape, doesn't mean you need to take on that anxiety in your own emotions.
"You can stay compassionate for those surrounding you," Dr. Ashbrook says, "but be careful not to get swallowed up in someone else's problems." That, she explains, is what can alter your own ability, in a long-term sense, to stay positive in the midst of stressful situations.
But when it comes to those potential long-term effects that stress can have on your personality, Texas-based counselor, Heidi McBain, has a slightly different outlook than Ashbrook.
"I wouldn’t say stress affects your personality per se," McBain tells Elite Daily, "but more-so that it can affect how you react to certain situations in your life as they come up."
In other words, stress doesn't necessarily change you, as a person. Rather, McBain says, it can affect the behaviors you engage in, which, of course, are typically very much a part of who you are.
In the short-term, she explains, if you're reacting to stress with stress, you might be more prone to cry, or get angry, or feel scared, depending on the situation you find yourself in. But the thing you really have to watch out for here, she says, is when those reactions to stress turn into a long-term habit.
"The things people do on a daily basis tend to become habitual, and this can be positive or negative," McBain tells Elite Daily. "So, if you’re someone who cries, or gets angry, or feels scared during any stressful situation, this might be a pattern you now have in your life."
McBain says therapy is a great way to help you detect these habitual patterns, learn how to break them down, and replace them with healthier habits moving forward. She also recommends things like meditation, journaling, or making gratitude lists to help you see the positives in life when it feels like stress is all you can think about.
Rest assured, stress can't automatically change who you are. But it's up to you to take care of yourself, and to not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.