Most Common Stress Responses of Each Enneagram Type and How to Manage Them11 July 2021 / By Stephanie Barron Hall Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on July 11, 2021
Watch: Molly Owens, CEO of Truity, and Steph Barron Hall, Found of Nine Types Co., talk about the Enneagram types and stress on Instagram.
What do you think about when you think of stress?
For some of us, the word stress conjures an image of anxiety, frustration and irritation. For others, stress feels like chronic overwhelm: like everything is just too much.
As we move through life, sometimes stress brings out our best. Under pressure, we might be able to perform at a high level, pivot on a moment's notice, or think up a genius solution to a mounting problem. And sometimes, stress brings out our worst, most agitated selves, leaving us to lash out at loved ones, crumble under pressure, and drift into listlessness.
Understanding our stress responses can be a helpful tool, guiding us to know when stress will propel us forward and when it's time to take a break.
This article will review data from a Truity survey of more than 19,000 Enneagram test-takers focusing on the common stress responses of each Enneagram type.
- When under stress, Ones, Threes, and Eights report becoming more active and productive than usual. Alternatively, Fours and Nines report becoming much less productive than usual.
- Ones, Threes, and Eights are also the least likely types to lose energy when stressed.
- Sevens are the most likely type to be social under stress.
- Fours reported the broadest range of feelings under stress: of 16 emotions, they checked off an average of 8.6 per participant. Alternatively, Eights reported the narrowest range of feelings under stress at 5.4 per participant.
Type 1 Under Stress
- Ones are one of the most likely types to become more active under stress and to report feeling more energized when stressed.
- Ones are the least likely type to procrastinate under stress.
- Type Ones prefer to cope with stress by engaging in physical activity. Respondents said they manage stress by exercising, walking, meditating, and reading.
Stress Management Tips for Enneagram 1s
Ones are often resistant to delegating tasks to anyone who is not as proficient as they are, but finding the perfect delegate isn’t always an option. So use stress as a reminder that you can’t do everything all alone, and there can be multiple ways to accomplish the same goal. It’s hard to ask for help, but when you find yourself taking on more than you can handle under stress, work on reaching out for support.
An additional frustration for many Ones is the sheer scope of a problem, which often includes internal pressure to change, improve, or fix the entire issue. Work on narrowing your focus to just a few things you can tangibly impact. Letting go of all the other factors is difficult, but focusing on what you can influence or control will help you take small steps toward resolution.
Type 2 Under Stress
- Twos are one of the most likely types to say they are less active/productive when dealing with stress that lasts for multiple days. However, short-term stress (one day or less) has a smaller impact on their productivity.
- Twos are one of the most likely types to procrastinate under stress.
- Twos cope with stress by talking with a friend, exercising, and listening to music.
Stress Management Tips for Enneagram 2s
Stress may be the result of trying to take care of too many needs and not giving yourself enough time to reset and recharge. Take some time alone to sort out what your needs actually are, and plan some strategies to meet them.
Here are two alternatives for meeting needs:
Do something for yourself that you would for a friend in your situation, like taking yourself for coffee or writing yourself an encouraging note;
Work on asking for what you need instead of hinting around it.
Type 3 Under Stress
- Threes are the most likely type to become more active under stress, and they also report feeling more energized when stressed.
- Threes tend to respond to stress by applying effort and productivity, and they cope with stress by exercising and talking with friends.
Stress Management Tips for Enneagram 3s
Often, the first step to mitigating stress for Threes is re-evaluating: what do you actually HAVE to do, and what can wait? What can you let go of? How can you plan today to be less stressed in the future? Say "no, thank you!" to projects, invitations, volunteer opportunities, or other opportunities that would be great but will leave you perpetually overextended.
When you’re always on the go, it can be difficult to even get time to reflect or have fun. Take some time to focus on whatever is not the cause of your stress. If it’s work that’s stressing you out, plan some time to exercise, chill out with a partner or friends, or work on a project or hobby that is enjoyable and low-stress.
Type 4 Under Stress
- Fours are the most likely type to report being less active/productive under stress — whether short or long-term. They’re also the most likely type to say that stress makes them feel tired.
- Out of all the types, Four have the highest emotional index score, suggesting that they are the most likely to associate stress with negative emotions.
- Fours tend to respond to stressful situations by withdrawing to process their emotions. They cope with stress by listening to music, talking with friends, and exercising.
Stress Management Tips for Enneagram 4s
Sometimes stress can feel much bigger than you — and that results in overwhelming feelings. In those moments, try to focus on small, actionable goals that you can achieve.
At times, Fours feel like they are unable to change their situation and unable to see things differently: developing a relationship with a coach or mentor can help Fours recenter when everything feels too overwhelming and out of control. At first, the mentor or coach might be the one who gives guidance, but eventually, Fours can develop their own internal mentor who will guide those challenging moments.
Type 5 Under Stress
- Fives are the least likely type to say they want to spend time with other people when they are stressed.
- Fives prefer to cope with stress by sleeping and working on projects.
Stress Management Tips for Enneagram 5s
You may think if you can just get everything taken care of, the stress will go away. But don’t forget that self-care is an essential part of dealing with stress. Take time to slow down, breathe and relax a bit by engaging in a creative project, doing something to move your body physically (running, walking, gardening, cooking, woodworking, etc.)
Sometimes exploring your emotional world will help you come back to the calm, centered, logical place you prefer. I recommend the book Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions by Dr. James W. Pennebaker. Pennebaker's research-based approach uses expressive writing as a tool to improve emotional and physical well-being.
Type 6 Under Stress
- Sixes are one of the types most likely to say that stress makes them less active/productive than usual.
- Sixes are one of the most likely types to say that they prefer to be alone when feeling stressed.
- When stressed, Sixes tend to cope by working more, sleeping, and listening to music.
Stress Management Tips for Enneagram 6s
When you’re dealing with stress, you may start to feel responsible for every little thing that goes wrong. Use paper or a whiteboard to physically write out what's causing you stress, and use your skills of analysis and troubleshooting to evaluate what is yours to do, and what isn't.
Things can get overwhelming when you're trying to mentally process something! Take time to chat with a supportive friend or family member who can reassure, listen, or advise. Be sure to share what you're looking for (i.e. "I just need someone to listen," "I'd love to get your input," or "I would love reassurance").
Type 7 Under Stress
- Sevens are the most likely type to want to be social when under stress. This corresponds with the type’s desire to avoid negative emotions by engaging in more exciting activities.
- Sevens cope with stress by working out, distracting themselves, and listening to music.
Stress Management Tips for Enneagram 7s
Sevens are known for being fun-seekers, but a more accurate description might be that they're seeking outside stimulation. This can come in many forms: fun events, new experiences, traveling, reading, or listening to something interesting.
When you're stressed, it's tempting to put some headphones in and find something interesting to take your mind off of the task at hand. Instead of seeking stimulation mentally, try doing something somewhat active without music, podcasts, books, etc.
For example, clean your house or do the dishes without anything playing. Doing something practical can be grounding, and turning off the noise might help you listen to your thoughts and sort through them.
Type 8 Under Stress
- Eights are one of the most likely types to become more active under stress and the most likely to say that stress energizes them.
- Out of all of the types, Eights have the lowest emotional index score, suggesting they are least likely to associate common negative emotions with stress.
- Eights respond to stress by working, spending time alone, and exercising.
Stress Management Tips for Enneagram 8s
You tend to deal with stress by over-functioning. This often looks like keeping busy and not letting it get to you, but over time stress will take its toll if it’s not dealt with effectively. Get into the practice of noticing when you are trying to buckle down and power through, then consider other options. What if you eased off a bit? What if you let someone know you're not doing as well as you seem? This vulnerability can be incredibly difficult, but it's important for long-term well-being.
"Suck it up." "Tough it out." "Get over it." These phrases are ubiquitous in the language and inner thoughts of Eights. Often, they make Eights strong, powerful, and resilient. But at some point, it's hard to be so resilient all the time.
Instead of telling yourself to suck it up, what tender, kind, and loving words could you use? Here are a few short scripts to help you develop these words: "That was really hard, we've been through a lot this year," "It's okay not to be tough all the time," or "We'll get through it — but it hurts right now, and that's okay." You won't suddenly go soft if you stop being so tough on yourself, I promise.
Type 9 Under Stress
- Nines are one of the most likely types to report feeling less active/productive under stress.
- Nines are one of the least likely types to say they feel energized when stressed and the least likely to work out as a way to cope with stress.
- Nines cope with stress by talking with friends, spending time alone, and crying.
Stress Management Tips for 9s
Sometimes stress can make everything feel overwhelming for Nines. Breaking stressful tasks into small doses can help you tackle one small thing at a time and feel successful along the way. In stressful seasons, a supportive routine might help as well. For example, you could spend 15 minutes to yourself each day, including a moment to stretch and 10 minutes to journal or meditate. Being able to rely on this can help you feel a bit more in control and capable of handling stressful situations.
The last thing you need under stress is pressure from others. Withdrawal often feels like the easiest and most convenient tactic. But rather than retreat from the outer world, look for a friend or partner to process your feelings with. Be upfront that you’re not looking for advice, you just need space to vent.
Stress isn’t always bad. In fact, it can be a helpful tool to help us grow and think about things in new and fresh ways. However, if you find yourself dealing with unwanted stress, the insights and tips here are intended to help you manage your stress in practical ways.
Keep in mind that while your Enneagram type can be illuminating, it doesn't encapsulate everything about you. If what you read about your type doesn't quite fit, that's okay. Use that sense of dissonance to prompt curiosity, and tap into some self-awareness by answering these questions:
- How do you handle stress?
- How does stress impact your relationships?
- When stressed, do you become more engaged, energized, and activated? Or do you feel deflated and in need of rest?
- How do you feel when you get stressed? Name three emotions you commonly experience in moments or seasons of stress.
- In the past, how have you managed stress well? What has helped? How can you use this as a guide for managing future or current stress?
One stress response is not better than another. We might all want to be the person who becomes exponentially more productive every time stress enters the frame, but this response isn't always the most helpful or sustainable.
Sometimes the way our body naturally responds (for example, becoming exhausted) can be its way of telling us that we need rest! And pushing past that need for rest may simply delay the inevitable crash.
I’ve read countless articles and even a couple of books on managing stress, but until I learned the Enneagram, I couldn’t figure out why these one-size-fits-all approaches didn’t work for me. Using the Enneagram to tailor my approach to stress has helped me build more sustainable practices, and I’m learning to re-evaluate as I go.
I hope this Enneagram-focused approach to stress can also help you bring more self-awareness to your stress levels, stress responses, and natural stress-management tactics. As you move forward, reflect on what’s working, try out new strategies, and build the skills you need to support yourself well.
Unsure of your Enneagram type? Take our free Enneagram test.
Patrick wu (not verified) says...
I learned that my type wants to avoid bad feelings and distracts with other stimulation. Slowing down and grounding can actually be even more powerful