Stress, frustration, and overload can leave Enneagram Fours feeling completely overwhelmed. These sensitive types may struggle to manage situations that test their limits, as their coping skills are pushed past the breaking point. They are unlikely to flee these environments, however, since they are responsible and would feel guilty about not sticking it out.

If you’re an Enneagram Four, you might be overwhelmed by situations that:

  • Make you feel self-conscious about others observing you, which brings your lack of confidence and chronic self-esteem issues to the surface
  • Make you feel inauthentic, like you’re doing what others want instead of following your own inner voice
  • Leave you trapped in self-pity, feeling put upon because you think others are asking you to do too much
  • Inundate you with negative emotions, which you can absorb from angry, frustrated, or repressed individuals
  • Make you feel misunderstood and unappreciated, when you’re trying to help everyone while sacrificing your own interests
  • Cause you to ignore, suppress, or deny your true feelings, because you think you need to be strong for the benefit of others
  • Surround you with too much noise, too many people, or too much activity, if your personality is more introverted 
  • Leave you feeling unsatisfied with your performance, as you fail to meet the high expectations that you have for yourself

If you’re triggered in one or more of these ways, that’s when you’ll feel like it’s all just too much.

So, what can you do to make things better? Quite a bit, actually, if you’re ready to take the initiative and try some things that may seem odd or uncomfortable at first. Slowly but surely, you can begin to control your environment instead of letting it control you, and once you develop that habit it will make all the difference in the world.

Here are eight survival strategies that can help any Enneagram Four deal with stressful or difficult circumstances more effectively:

#1 Don’t stay in a difficult environment longer than necessary

When environments are stressful, there’s no rule that says you must occupy them continuously. If it's possible for you to leave for a while without falling hopelessly behind on an important responsibility, you should take advantage of that opportunity.

This advice is especially useful if you’re at a party or some other type of busy and active social event. Not every Enneagram 4 is introverted, but many are, and they may only handle so much before they start suffering from sensory overload. Even extraverted Fours can struggle to maintain their mood, which means you’ll need to step out for a few minutes to unwind or recharge your batteries. 

Just the act of getting up and moving around can be enough to relieve some tension. In contrast, if you simply remain in an atmosphere that is making you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed, your tension will only grow. Leaving a difficult environment for a few moments isn’t at all inappropriate, not when your emotional health is at stake.

#2 Volunteer your services as a mediator

Even when people aren’t directly involved in a dispute or disagreement, they can be affected by the anger, resentment, frustration, or disappointment of those around them. This certainly goes for sensitive Enneagram Fours, who notice everything and are impacted by much of it.

When the people around you are not getting along, you’ll pick up on it and experience feelings of stress and deep discomfort. While your first instinct may be to simply suffer in silence, you don’t have to just sit back and let it ruin your day, or the day of your companions or co-workers.

You can take control of these unpleasant situations by stepping in and volunteering your services as a mediator. Your natural compassion and sensitivity will make you effective in this role. People will listen to you and respect your impartial advice, and this can help defuse tensions and end conflicts that are stressing you out.

#3 Get organized and stay that way

This is probably the most important piece of advice for Enneagram Fours who find themselves feeling frequently overwhelmed or overburdened with responsibility.

Because they’re compassionate and good-hearted and never want to say ‘no,’ Fours can quickly get in over their heads. Too often they accept additional responsibilities without carefully planning things and organizing things ahead of time, to make sure they can fit everything in.

You can always get more done if you become better organized, following a well-thought-out schedule and multitasking only in small doses. If you take this approach you will experience far less stress and not feel overwhelmed even when you have a lot on your plate. Once you get used to being more organized, you’ll quickly forget you ever did things differently.

#4 Make stress-reduction practices a part of your daily routine

It’s good to be introspective, and to think about why you’re having certain problems and about what you can do to change your circumstances. But it’s important to develop your coping skills, too, to prepare for stressful situations that can’t be avoided.

That’s where mind-body practices like meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, acupuncture, art and music therapy, and self-hypnosis come in. These potent mind-body healing techniques can help you regain your emotional equilibrium and preserve it, as long as you practice one or more of them on a regular (preferably daily) basis.

While you can’t control outside circumstances 100 percent of the time, you can change how you react to them.

#5 Cultivate more empowering self-awareness

Feeling stressed or frustrated creates a negative feedback loop. Your awareness of the stress or frustration will make them worse and interfere with your attempts to cope with or manage them.

The good news is that self-awareness doesn’t have to be self-sabotaging. If focused properly, that awareness can actually improve your capacity to function or cope.

When you feel yourself tightening up or losing your cool, you should step back into an observer’s role to look at those emotions from a more detached point of view. From this perspective, you can decide whether your reactions are rational or represent an overreaction to the situation. When you learn to distinguish between an overreaction and a justified reaction, you’ll gradually experience fewer of the former and become better at identifying and addressing the latter.

#6 Talk about your feelings with those who can help

The people close to you aren’t going to know how their actions affect you unless you tell them. When family members or friends are responsible for the demands or actions that are making you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed, you owe it to yourself and to them to speak openly about what you’re feeling.

When you do talk about your reactions, you should make it about you rather than about them. Don’t point fingers, assess blame, or try to make others feel guilty. This will only make them defensive and less willing to alter their behavior. What you want to do is share knowledge that will help your loved ones make better decisions about how they behave toward you in the future.

The more your loved ones know about your triggers, the more they will be able to take them into consideration. And they’ll do so willingly because they care about your welfare.

#7 Be firm if you need to be

At times, Enneagram Fours can be too passive. They let things happen to them, instead of taking more responsibility for what is happening around them. Their self-esteem issues combined with their dislike for drama can make it difficult for them to step in and take a firmer stand.

It doesn’t have to be this way. When people are asking too much of you, or bringing their problems into your life or workplace, it's okay if you occasionally say ‘enough.’ Not loudly, rudely, or abruptly, but diplomatically and with carefully chosen words. With calmness and dignity, you’ll be asserting your right to have your needs respected.

People know you as a peaceful, thoughtful, and sensitive person. Consequently, they will listen to you if you take a more authoritative stance on occasion. This will help you establish boundaries that others will respect in the future.

#8 Stop relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms

People looking to escape tension and emotional exhaustion will generally seek out the familiar. Unfortunately, the compulsive activities that we routinely retreat into—watching a few hours of TV, eating bowls full of “comfort” food (a.k.a., junk food), staying up late hanging out on the computer, or just laying around doing nothing—can do us more harm than good.

Enneagram Fours who often feel overwhelmed need to make fundamental changes in the way they live. This means changing your dietary and exercise habits to improve physical health and energy levels. It also means getting plenty of sleep, which boosts energy but also helps reduce depression or anxiety. It means limiting immersion in electronic or digital environments, which either turn people into passive consumers or involve them in too many tense social media interactions.

Once you’ve improved your physical, mental, and emotional health, you’ll be less vulnerable to feeling stressed out or overwhelmed. You’ll feel more resilient and more confident, which will boost your capacity to handle life’s most daunting challenges.

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.