Stress Can Change Your Personality

19 December, 2020
Irritability, moodiness, negativity... Stress can change your personality, take away your shine and drive, and even turn you into someone you don't like, an impatient, pessimistic, and unmotivated person.

Yes, stress can change your personality. And maybe it’s affected yours. Maybe you used to be optimistic and confident and responded to everyone with a smile. And now, things seem to be very different.

Everything seems to bother you, you lose your patience more easily, and you always seem to be in a bad mood. You’ve become more cynical, and you can’t seem to get rid of your apathy.

Does all of this ring a bell? Well, it’s a sad reality for many people. Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s something that affects many people’s quality of life. However, the most striking thing of all is that, in these cases, the person is usually fully aware of how they’ve changed. Their way of reacting to external factors creates unease and they often wonder why they’re acting that way.

Yet, they can’t help but look at the world with weariness. Everything seems dark and worrying. They don’t have any motivation for the things that used to encourage them and fill them with energy, and these very things now just seem to exhaust them.

When we notice the difference between how we used to be and how we behave now because of stress, it simply intensifies the suffering even more.

A good step

As psychotherapist Carl Rogers pointed out, simply being aware of that unease and knowing that you aren’t okay with what you’re doing and what’s happening to you, is, in itself, a good step. You now have the opportunity to address the problem in a clear and courageous way. You’re only lacking the right resources to do so.

A stressed man.

How stress can change your personality

As we mentioned above, stress can change your personality in many ways. Someone who used to be the very definition of motivation, dedication, and kindness can become irritable in just a few months.

You’ll be able to see this not only in yourself, but also in a co-worker, a friend, or a partner who no longer seems to enjoy your company. They become reticent, answer back, get frustrated easily, and always see problems where before there was plenty of room for solutions.

Why does this happen? What happens inside your mind or brain to produce these changes?

Stress makes you pessimistic

Until not too long ago, experts thought that the human personality, when a certain period of life arrived, became stable and didn’t easily change over time (Costa and McCrae, 1988). However, studies such as the one conducted at the University of California by Dr. Grant Shields, show us that this is certainly not the case.

Your personality fluctuates and undergoes changes. It does so especially in the face of adverse events or experiences that you learn from and which make you see the world (and yourself) differently. This is positive because it allows you to grow and progress as a human being.

However, on the other hand, there are also less encouraging experiences where chronic stress, maintained over long periods of time, produces very evident changes in your personality.

Chronic stress (not the sporadic type) changes your personality because it makes you pessimistic. The state of defenselessness and psychological exhaustion is so profound that it creates adverse emotions such as pessimism, negativity, and anguish that flood your whole life.

A stressed woman.

Stress changes your neural circuits

Stress activates a brain network that consists of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal cortex. All of this causes the release of several compounds that are very similar to cortisone, such as glucocorticoids. The best known and the one that has the greatest impact on the brain and the body is cortisol.

So, if stress changes your personality, it’s basically due to the effect of this hormone. You’re more exhausted, you can’t concentrate, you have memory lapses, and you also experience what’s known as “environmental hypersensitivity”.

This means that you’ll experience any stimulus far more intensely. This is why you’ll lack patience and magnify small problems so that they become far greater than they are. This is why you aren’t able to cope with many life situations anymore.

What can you do to reduce the impact of stress?

Stress, like anxiety, is part of your life. Thus, the purpose isn’t to make it disappear but to place it in such a place where you can manage it and where you can fully control these psychological realities. However, that being said, if you have very high stress levels, we highly recommend you to go see a specialized professional.

Here are some basic and simple keys that you can think about and that should help you to start changing things in your life.

  • Establish priorities. As far as you can, it’s advisable to simplify and organize your daily life.
  • Practices such as mindfulness are very effective in reducing stress.
  • There’s a very basic rule you should use in your daily life: start one thing at a time and finish it. Whatever you do, don’t try to think about or do several activities at the same time.
  • You should set positive goals for yourself throughout each day. Sign up for a course, take a couple of hours for yourself, go for a walk, etc.
  • Be careful with your internal dialogue. Those thoughts and internal words should always benefit you. They must be kind and also able to detect negative and disabling thoughts before they take root.
  • We highly recommend you to rely on meaningful people.
  • Identify what stresses you out the most and work on it.

In conclusion, as stress can change your personality, keep this fact in mind in order to apply adequate strategies. Don’t allow these conditions to turn you into someone you aren’t, into a person you don’t recognize.

  • Carver, CS, y Connor-Smith, J. (2010). Personalidad y afrontamiento. SSRN . https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100352
  • Alarcon, G., Eschleman, K. J., & Bowling, N. A. (2009). Relationships between personality variables and burnout: A meta-analysis. Work and Stress, 23(3), 244–263. https://doi.org/10.1080/02678370903282600
  • Wranik, T. (2005). Personalidad bajo estrés. Revista de psicopatología y evaluación del comportamiento , 18 , 71-189. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10862-005-0634-6