INFJs (one of the 16 personality types according to Myers and Briggs' theory) are highly perceptive of their environment and other people. They are deeply empathetic and often understand others better than they understand themselves. They work hard for the common good, commit, and follow through. And they are perhaps more likely than any other personality type to experience anxiety.
The relationship between these traits is fairly solid. One recent study published in an Israeli academic journal suggests that anxiety can be positively correlated with elevated empathy. People who care deeply for others tend to be much more anxious than those who are less empathetic - although the science is less clear about causality. Does empathy make people more prone to anxiety, or are anxious people better at understanding others?
An equally significant aspect of stress is that it can actually make a person less generous and caring toward others. When stress rises, empathy suffers. No matter how empathetic you are to begin with, under stress, you're more likely to interpret neutral events as hostile ones and displace frustration onto those around you. As this fascinating study shows, it also makes you less likely to feel someone else's pain.
For INFJs, these studies make interesting reading. They hint at something you may have noticed in yourself - specifically, that you experience higher stress levels compared to other personality types and that, under stress, your ability to stand in another's shoes is severely compromised. INFJs have a reputation for becoming sarcastic, narrow-minded and critical under pressure, often lashing out at others in ways you can barely comprehend.
What triggers such uncomfortable behavior? Let's take a closer look.
#1: Dealing with details
Too many details or other sensory stimuli can provoke a stress reaction in INFJs, especially when you feel uncertain about a situation. Unexpected environments, events or interruptions unsettle you greatly since you are forced to focus on immediate, sensory details rather than relying on your intuition. Examples range from filing your taxes to navigating your way through a foreign city.
As you start to lose your global perspective, you may make frustrating and stressful mistakes. For example, you may misplace or drop things. You may obsess about the minute details and become fixated on finding the "right" or "missing" piece of data that will solve your problem. Or you may attempt to control everything around you, compulsively alphabetizing your DVD collection or putting things permanently and immediately in order.
Interestingly, the focus of your obsession may have nothing to do with the situation that caused the stress reaction in the first place. And since your labor is misdirected, it is unlikely to produce any meaningful results - causing even greater stress.
How to beat it: Removing the sensory stimulation is essential if you are to restore a feeling of balance. Consider lying down for 10 minutes, in the dark, with earplugs in order to block the sensory overload, and make sure you get a good night's sleep. In the long-term, learn to recognize the signs of overstimulation and take steps to mitigate them. For example, you might switch off the relentless email, music, bright lights etc and schedule a break from some of these distractions.
#2: Too much extroverting
Crowds, noise, frequent interruptions - INFJs need their personal space and may experience great anxiety if they have too much contact with people in one day. Faced with such provocations, there's a risk that you will spread yourself so thin responding to other people's problems that you neglect your own needs.
In such situations, your stress reaction tends to go one of two ways. Either you shut down from the world, communicating very little. Or you externalize blame and become angry with the world around you; a type of anxiety that will continue to plague you until you can escape to a low-pressure, solitary environment.
How to beat it: INFJs agree that regular periods of solitude in a simple, non-threatening environment is important to help them regain their equilibrium. You need to give yourself the time to recover from social interactions so you can stop feeling the emotions of others and start reconnecting with yourself. Exercising alone is helpful, and some INFJs find great solace in nature. Other stress busters include light reading, writing in a journal or meditation.
#3: Lack of autonomy and efficiency
Controlled and structured work environments that do not provide the flexibility to think independently are extremely stressful for INFJs. You establish very high, often perfectionist, standards for yourself and need the freedom to creatively accomplish these goals. Inefficiency or teams that have no sense of direction will also string you out since they stifle your ability to produce something significant.
When overwhelmed at work, you are likely to focus on all the things that are wrong with the environment. You may start micromanaging others, feeling like you have to do all the work yourself. Or you may become picky and fault-finding toward your co-workers, trying to change their behavior "for their own good."
How to beat it: You tend to see your environment as a house of straws that could collapse on you at any time. To avoid stress, you need to constantly reinforce the structure and make sure you have enough room to maneuver.
Ideally, find a quiet space to think and work. If that's not possible, redirect the phone, shut down your email and pop on a pair of headphones. Establish rules for when and how work is delivered and how much others may interrupt you - and make sure that you are available within these slots. This is important since you tend to be hard on yourself when you cannot meet others' expectations.
#4: Distress with close relationships
INFJs are particularly vulnerable to hurt feelings when there is conflict within a close relationship. Feeling chronically misunderstood can strike at the heart of your authenticity and bring into question your value when a friend or partner seems opposed to your opinion. You also have a tendency to absorb the beliefs and feelings of others as if they were your own. When external conflict grows, so too does your sense of personal discomfort.
In a low-pressure environment, you typically will put up with many things in a relationship for the sake of keeping the peace. But there is always an invisible line that others shall not cross. When they do, your stress reactions can be cataclysmic. An angry INFJ can deliver a wrath and intensity that most people have probably never experienced before.
How to beat it: There are really only two ways to handle a stressful relationship: dissociate from the situation or call a friend and gripe. It's probably wise to do both. Spending time alone will allow you to separate your feelings from those of the other person and understand yourself without distortion. Talking to someone can help put those feelings into perspective since you tend to solve problems by articulating them.
If you feel uncomfortable blabbing about your problems (let's face it, no INFJ enjoys airing their dirty laundry in public) reconnecting with your intuition can offer the same catharsis. You have a habit of dropping all your favorite activities when stressed, but the time to relax is when the molehills are erupting into mountains. It really does help to give yourself permission to be creative, put your intuition back in charge and honor your muse.
What about you? What triggers your stress reactions? What tips have you learned to decompress? Let us know in the comments.