As chill and nonchalant INTP personalities may seem on the surface, we can be masters at disguising our stress—into self-deprecating humor, perhaps, or even excessive socializing. Uncharacteristic behavior is the number one identifier for extreme stress in INTPs. 

Like most people, I’ve been through a hefty chunk of stress in my life. From the switcheroo of choosing a major, to the tedium of studying, to the massive procrastination of selecting a career path (spoiler alert: there isn’t one), I always found myself resorting to less-than-healthy coping mechanisms to either distance myself from stress, or block out the stressor altogether. 

On the whole, stress can frazzle anyone out—INTPs are no exception. The world of academia (glory days, anyone?) has thrown various trickshots at me throughout the years. Was it mentally jarring? Yes, all the yes. Was the experience worth it in hindsight? Also yes. The inordinate amounts of headaches during my time as a student helped to shape who I am today.

So, how has stress helped me grow as an INTP? Read on to find out!

High School – The Dark(ish) Ages

The pre-prep stage prior to major selection was incredibly stressful, despite me passing every course with ease. I felt ridiculously stuck and faked a facade to tolerate it, with days that seemed to stretch on and on. Who knows what their best-fit career path is at the measly age of 18, anyway?

Extracurricular clubs and activities kept me sane during this chaotic time. I was a journalist and advice columnist for the school newspaper, a rock vocalist and a neuroscience representative. All these different roles and experiences simultaneously kept me going amid those bleak study sessions. They also led to major sleep deprivation. Call it overachieving or “trying too hard,” the constant activity was my way of tuning out my emotions that were crying out for help. Why ruminate on negative thoughts when I could simply stay busy—ignorance is bliss?

Although haphazardly, I learned how to manage my time: using the Eisenhower matrix to tackle procrastination, deploying positive self-talk strategies, and fitting in time for physical exercise to beat the blues before they wreaked havoc. Luckily, I ended high school on a high note, ready for the next chapter.

In theory. 

University – The Back-and-Forth Switcheroo

The red-themed merch greeted me as I stepped foot into the place I’d call home for four years, as a student of general engineering. Armed with a mile-wide superiority complex from my academic successes in high school, I thought this would be the start of something amazing. Or so my teachers told me. 

Boy, was I wrong. 

My course bored me, and that stressed me out. And despite my best intentions, I quickly fell back into my INTP-avoiding ways. I got my hands on all the textbooks that captured my interest, even though they had nothing to do with engineering. I would deliberately (and happily) avoid my own lectures to sneak in on ones which seemed more appealing (psychology, linguistics, philosophy, design, sociology, and even economics). 

And for all the nights when I should’ve been studying, I fell waist-deep into concerts, social gatherings, binge-shopping and late-night dessert runs. My once acceptable sleep-wake schedule went to complete garbage. 

Stress and adrenaline do go hand-in-hand after all, according to a biochemistry tutorial I crashed...

Eventually, I consulted a counselor and switched programs—from engineering to social psychology. Everything was dandy for a solid three months, until the rigid structure of the program kicked in. All those back-to-back deadlines took a toll on my mental health, and I’d randomly miss a lecture here and there from trying to keep track of everything. 

Stress-Busting Techniques Learnt From It All

How exactly has stress from my roller coaster ride of academia helped me grow? 

To backtrack a little, high school taught me to prioritize my time (the Pomodoro technique works like a charm). And ultimately, my health. For me, and I suspect for many INTPs, stress used to mask itself as bouts of high energy and productivity. Those seemed like good things, until I realized how destructive they were. I was keeping busy to avoid my feelings, because feelings are hard and keeping busy is easy. After I took time to reflect upon my thoughts and feelings, I found my sense of self again.

University was another animal altogether. I was curious; eager to learn about a variety of subjects outside of my program. These are INTP strengths. What we’re not so good at are the rules, guidelines and structure that come with this environment. Avoidant of neatly chunked lectures, and wide awake at odd hours to absorb all the new knowledge, I seriously did not fit in. I could have burnt down in flames from all the stress, studying, and demanding deadlines (and I did, for a while). But luckily for me, I reached out to career counsellors for additional perspective and insight—when seeking help used to be a flat-out foreign concept. I definitely recommend this as a coping mechanism for INTPs. 

Where all this has led me, is into the world of freelance work.  This is an area where my strengths intersect—things like my insatiable curiosity, for instance, and the ability to seek out creative ways to combine ideas. And with freelancing, I have far more control over the things that cause me stress, like deadlines and boredom. I can get the work done whenever, wherever. I can hit the gym at 7:00am, run a few errands, grab a bite to eat, and then start writing at noon. 

In a nutshell, stress was a kick to the brain to make significant changes in the way I structure my world. I don’t have to be conventional, and that’s a huge relief. 

Final Words of Encouragement

INTP or not, stress is a regular part of life. You can choose to deal with it actively or passively—there will be consequences for your actions. Small steps add up to huge improvements, which then turn into positive, healthy habits. Fresh air and human interaction are important, so make sure to fit a bit of both in each day.

Sometimes the road is rough and full of turns—other times it’s smooth as butter. The secret is to stay content through all the ebb and flows. Build inner confidence. Let the pent-up energy out, whether it’s through kickboxing, singing, or competitive sports. See a counsellor, social worker, psychologist, or trusted friend for another point of view. Change what’s not working. Build a world that works for you. 

How have you grown from stress as an INTP? What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way? Share your stories and thoughts below!