Coping With Future Stress and Personality

Darrell’s avatar

When faced with potential stress, how do you cope? Do you batten down the hatches and gather your resources to ride out a coming storm in safety? Or do you see at a challenge with a potential for reward and growth and go on deck to face the storm head on? Do you resist the stress or do you exploit it, or perhaps you do a little of both?

When discussing such things, modern researchers talk about three types of coping: reactive, proactive and preventive.

  • Reactive involves dealing with stressors that have happened or are happening. On the way to work you spill coffee on yourself and get flat tire all before you get stuck in the traffic tie-up that makes you even later for that important meeting that you’re already late for.
  • Preventive is seeing a stressor approaching, then planning and doing things to lessen the impact of it. You have to give someone bad news, so you figure out how soften the blow to reduce the unpleasant reaction.
  • Proactive is seeing a stressor approaching, then figuring out ways to make the best of it and to turn it into an opportunity. You have to give someone bad news, so you discover all the alternatives you can to help them find a way through it.

Reactive deals with past and present stressors. Preventive and proactive anticipate future stressors and suggest activity in preparation.

A recent study decided to find out if particular personality traits leaned more toward preventive or proactive coping as a style among college students. They determined that those with high Conscientiousness (likely to have a strong Judging trait in our model) and Openness to Experience (our Intuitive types) were more likely to use both styles. Those with high Extraversion and Neuroticism (one of the aspects of our Turbulent type variant) were “only predictive of proactive coping”. In other words, these personality types are more likely to employ proactive coping.

What does this tell us, if anything? There is nothing startling here, but there is plenty of fodder for conversation. We assume this generalizes beyond college students to the larger population. The balance between the two styles seems prudent. One speaks to readiness while the other speaks to taking charge and doing something positive. Relying more on just one style, regardless how virtuous the style may be, seems a bit limiting. There have also been some suggestions the proactive style is linked to optimism and, therefore, well-being. Then what about the Turbulent types relying on proactivity more? There is obviously still much to be explored.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let us know. What does this study say to you? Do you use one coping style more than the other and how does work for you?