Personality Clues for Teenagers

Understand your personality traits and make amazing choices

Medically Reviewed by John M Goldenring, MD, JD, MPH on June 01, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Have you ever wondered how your personality traits might determine the choices you make? And how these traits affect your satisfaction with your choices? Here's your chance to find out. Read the following scenarios and mark the one that best describes you:

Scenario 1

_______I feel strung out most of the time. Each night before bed I look at my calendar and start feeling anxious, dreading the next day. I have insomnia many nights, just thinking about all the things I have to do. Somehow there's always more to do than time or energy available. Honestly, I really want to spend more time alone, listening to my iPod, working on an art project, and doing yoga in my bedroom. Yet each day I wake up to a blaring alarm clock that reminds me I have more classes, homework, club meetings, and too many obligations to family and friends. Why didn't someone warn me to take it easy and make better choices? I constantly feel stressed out.

Scenario 2

_______ I wake up ready to take on the world. I love carpools with friends, after school club meetings, and working part time three nights a week. I'm the ultimate juggler: managing my school work, sports team and friends all at once. Usually I'm calm and rarely overreact when life gets crazy. Alone time? Who needs it? If there's ever a cause that needs some help, I volunteer. If I'm in a club, I want to be the leader. I crave being busy, with many commitments, and much action.

Personality traits relate to stress

"To make healthy choices in life, teens need to spend time understanding their personality traits and their relationship with stress," says Eric Sundstrom, psychology professor at the University of Tennessee and co-founder of My Next Phase, a web site that helps people understand their personality traits and make life choices based on this understanding. "Many teenagers think they are ultra-resilient, robust and stress tolerant yet in reality they cave when stress hits. These teens take heavy course loads at school, sign up for too many extracurricular activities and easily get overextended. Because 'stress sensitive' or responsive teens overestimate their ability to deal with life's commitments, demands, and challenges, the result can invariably be a major 'crash and burn,'" Sundstrom says.

Sundstrom adds that when teens get a sense of their personal strengths and limitations early in life, they are far more likely to make the best choices and manage stress in a healthy way.

Are you a stress-sensitive teen?

If you identified with Scenario 1, you may be a responsive or stress-sensitive teen who reacts readily to the pressures of life. If someone upsets you, it may take you a longer time to recover than your more stress tolerant or resilient friend. Stress-sensitive teens get highly anxious when overloaded with commitments and then have great difficulty making decisions. They strongly react to challenges in life and may have physical symptoms such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, or stomachaches, because they internalize tension.

"Responsive teens often see their peers taking on many commitments at school and after school," Sundstrom explains. "While these sensitive teens want to compete and fit in with the crowd, they usually find the extra commitments far more challenging and have extreme difficulty when they overextend."

Sundstrom recommends that stress-sensitive or responsive teens spend time understanding themselves so they can develop the proper pacing and get the emotional support they need. "If responsive teens take on more than they can reasonably handle, they easily get stressed out, even ill. Once they're in overload, they are more prone to cope in unhealthy ways, with eating disorders, cigarette smoking or alcohol and drug use. Many responsive or stress-sensitive teens risk suffering depression, and even suicidal tendencies, when they are overwhelmed."

Are you a stress-tolerant teen?

If you identified with Scenario 2, you are probably more stress tolerant or resilient. Resilient teens deal with life's pressures in a calm manner. Nothing seems to throw them. They handle disappointments and frustrating situations just as they handle exciting times - with emotional balance. Resilient teens rarely get upset or nervous, and when they do, they snap back the next day, ready to take on more challenges.

Sundstrom points out that many choices in high school and college hinge on personality traits. "If you are the outgoing, resilient teen, you might want to live on campus and have a roommate. If you are the responsive, stress-sensitive teen, you might need a private room with no roommate, so you can close the door and be alone when you begin to feel stressed."

Don't crash and burn

Let's face it. Being a hormonal teenager in itself is stressful. But when you add other stressors like difficult classes, exams, part-time jobs, and peer pressure, it's enough to put stress-sensitive teens over the edge. There is a better way to live.

Sundstrom recommends that teens stop and take some time to get to know themselves. "You can find a simple personality test on the Internet and do a profile designed for teens to establish your unique traits. Also, talk to your school counselor or a professional therapist about taking a personality inventory."

School counselors have access to individual personality tests. It's just a matter of inquiring about them. Professional therapists may be able to interpret the results of personality tests, giving you deeper insight into what the traits mean to you-and how you can change your behavior and make amazing decisions that fit your unique traits.

Know your stress style and thrive

Most importantly, Sundstrom warns, know who you are. Know what makes you feel satisfied and fulfilled, and what makes you feel stressed out. Understand your limits before you take on one more commitment or project. The more aware you are of your stress style, whether responsive or resilient, the better able you'll be to find your special interests and feel successful with healthy choices.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Eric Sundstrom, PhD, professor of psychology, University of Tennessee; co-founder, My Next Phase. National Institutes of Health: "Stress and Drug Abuse"; "Stress - It Might Be Even Worse Than You Think."

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