Psychology: How stress changes our personality

How stress changes our personality

© Kittiphan / Adobe Stock

Our personality is not fixed from birth, but it is constantly evolving. But our characteristics can not only change in a positive way – because factors such as stress can also have a negative effect on our personality.

We all know this for sure: when we are under a lot of pressure, for example at work, we get angry easily and may pick up our partners at the breakfast table more quickly if something doesn’t work for us. And that, even if we’re otherwise perhaps even a relatively impatient person. Although these are usually short-term shifts in our personality traits, if stress persists for longer, these unsightly characteristics can also become permanent.

Study: Stress makes us more pessimistic

When we are stressed, we see the world through a whole new lens. This negative view is practically the opposite of pink eyeglasses – our very positive view of everything when we are in love. If things are not going well for us and we feel a lot of pressure, we easily transfer this negativity to other areas of life. This can turn even the kindest, most patient, and optimistic person into a grumpy, angry person.

A study conducted by psychologist Dr. Grant Shields, Lauren L. Toussaint, and Dr. George M. Slavic of the University of California did research on how stress affects our personality. They examined 332 adults of all ages for their stress levels and pessimism levels, as well as the association between the two over time. Scientists have found that changes in stress levels affect personality, and more stress ultimately makes us more pessimistic.

The good thing is that we can do something about it. Because just realizing that our personality is slowly but surely changing due to external circumstances can help. Anyone who can think of this fact is already on the right track.

Why does stress affect our behaviour?

Stress is part of life. Strictly speaking, we need him and the stress hormone cortisol to control difficult situations. Because when we feel stressed, our bodies release cortisol, among other things, which gives us energy in the short term. For example, we have enough strength to meet a job deadline. The problem: If the body produces too much of a messenger in the long run, this causes fatigue, poor ability to focus, and makes us over-sensitive. And if we are exposed to it over a longer period of time, it can change our personality for the worse and we are simply in a worse mood.

In the long run, we can and must ensure that the level of stress in our lives is reduced to a healthy level. Of course, that sounds easier said than done. But in the end, it’s all about our health – and our relationships. And this is a vicious cycle: when our personality changes to that of an angry old bear due to stress, loved ones may turn away from us. At the same time, fulfilled personal relationships and a strong social network are an important antidote to stress. So what do you do?

3 strategies against acute stress

If you feel that you can no longer handle your stress level on your own, it may make sense to talk to a therapist. Some tips for dealing with stress:

  1. Find out what worries you and actively work to reduce those stresses. Appointments may be too much for some, and too much screen time for others. Listen to yourself and pay attention to your needs.
  2. Set priorities. No five topics have priority 1. Decide what’s currently the most important item on your list and deliberately move the less urgent things back.
  3. Ask for help from your loved ones. Talk to your friends and family, and explain to them what stresses you out. In the worst case, you’ve just talked about your problem off your chest – at best, someone might give you good advice or even relieve you of some of your burden.

Sources used:,


Leave a Comment