Handling stress at Christmas time

Posted 15 December 2011 by

The festive period is nearly upon us. It’s a time of great happiness for many. However, it can also be very stressful. This is illustrated by some research we conducted earlier this year, in which only 38% of people told us that they didn’t find Christmas at all stressful.

So, how can we learn to recognise the warning signs of stress during the holiday period - both for ourselves and others? What can we do to avoid a meltdown? Failing that, how can we ensure a swift return to normality afterwards?

Most of the time, people tend to deal pretty well with the demands placed on them. However, there are times when even the most emotionally balanced person will ‘flip out’. When this happens, it can have a dramatic impact on both the person and on others.

Have you ever looked back on a situation and thought “where on earth did that come from, and why did I behave like that”? Sometimes, it’s easy to look back and laugh about such things; at other times it can be rather distressing. When under extreme stress, we can find ourselves doing the strangest things.

What should we do?

The first thing to do is to realise that, as unlikely as it may seem, exhibiting uncharacteristic behavioural responses in times of extreme stress is quite normal. It doesn’t mean that we’re emotionally disturbed or unbalanced. Instead, it’s likely that we’re just expressing a different side to our personality; one that is rarely seen.

The first reaction for many people when things start to become stressful may be to exaggerate one’s natural tendencies. The quiet, logical person may become more critical; those more prone to sharing their emotions may become even more expressive. Such behaviours could be seen as warning signs.

As this rather unbalanced approach starts to become less and less effective, balance needs to be restored, so there might be a dramatic shift in her behaviour as a self-regulation mechanism kicks in. Suddenly, episodes of uncharacteristic behaviour may start to emerge. In MBTI terms, we call this ‘in the grip’ behaviour.

According to Jungian typology, ‘in the grip’ behaviour results from when usually hidden, unconscious, parts of our personalities emerge dramatically during times of stress, fatigue and illness. These parts of our personality are called the ‘inferior function’. The behaviours associated with the expression of the inferior function vary widely across individuals.

It’s important to recognise the warning signs that precede in the grip behaviours, as they are an expression of the dominant function; the dominant function being one that we are familiar with and one that we can control. Once a person falls into the grip, their behaviours demonstrate their inferior function and the way that this largely unconscious part of our personality can “take over”.

The challenge then is to take steps to re-introduce balance. This is where we can all play a part. Through our knowledge of Jungian typology, we can learn to understand the uncharacteristic behavioural responses that may seem so baffling to others.

We can learn more about what the inferior function is for different types of people, when it is likely to erupt, and what events trigger it. We can also discover how it is expressed in different types, and what we can do to return to our usual state. By having an understanding of our own and others’ inferior functions we can enhance our lives greatly.

So, how can we re-establish balance to someone who is “in the grip”?

Unfortunately there is no simple answer; we find that people of different types all have their own ways of re-establishing balance. However, a change of scenery and physical exercise does seem to benefit all.

Another good reason to go for a walk after Christmas lunch then!

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