I never knew the meaning of a “Type-A” personality, despite the fact that my friends used it to describe me in high school—a lot. I never went looking for what the term meant either, assuming from context it meant I was a workaholic. Besides, I was too busy working to bother with figuring it out.
But “Type A,” a term I heard being thrown around frequently, especially in regard to myself, actually has real roots in psychology. Type A is defined as people who are more competitive, urgent, hostile and aggressive.
Type A individuals tend to be very competitive and self-critical. They strive toward goals without feeling a sense of joy in their efforts or accomplishments.
Type B personalities tend to be more relaxed, patient and easy going.
Most people fall somewhere between the A and B spectrum, which was discovered by two cardiologists, Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman. The story goes that they were reupholstering their waiting-room chairs, and that the upholsterer who arrived noticed that the chairs had worn in an unusual way.
Apparently, the cardiac patients were unable to sit still, and wore out the chairs faster than expected. Years later the two doctors began to formally research the phenomenon, defining the two personality types. They also found that individuals with a type A personality run higher risks of heart disease and high blood pressure than the type Bs.
As someone who’s been called type A before and identifies with some of the characteristics of the personality, I was a bit concerned about the cardiac-related information. The personality types, however, are a spectrum with most falling somewhere in between the two types. The story got me thinking about my organizational habits, and how I can stay on top of my work with minimal stress.
In a high-pressure environment, be it work or school, it can sometimes feel like every moment down to the millisecond has been blocked out. But something I’ve learned over the years is that your schedule is what you make of it.
Having a little bit of type A can be useful, its good to have some self-criticism, to strive towards goals, but its not good to feel an added sense of stress in your life.
Type A personalities experience a constant sense of urgency: Their lives feel like a constant struggle against the clock.
That’s why staying organized can be crucial to freeing up time and limiting the self-imposed stress so associated with type A personalities. A few basic things, including keeping a schedule or planner, and building time to relax, can be great ways to eliminate stress.
Though it might sometimes feel like doing everything you want is impossible, creating a daily schedule can help keep you accountable for your everyday tasks, and offers an opportunity to block out time to relax.
For example, take half an hour out of your day for an episode of a television show, an art or writing project or any other creative pursuit. Then you can be sure that, at least once a day, you can relax and do something simply because you enjoy it, not because of any external or internal pressure.
It can often feel like I’m just treading water with all my responsibilities and classes, which is why I try to block out my day to maximize my free time. This way, I can spend time with friends and family rather than spending 24 hours a day on work (but not 24/7 of course, as seven minutes are reserved for sleep).
And, if you have to work, take a five-minute break every half hour. These breaks help refresh your brain and avoid burn-out when trying to finish a project. Little breaks also allow you to come back to your work with fresh eyes.
So, take a break. It might seem silly to waste five or 30 minutes on something not entirely productive, but breaks are necessary to keep stress levels down (and apparently, they help your heart too)!1
Also published on Medium.