“I honestly can’t tell you what makes me anxious,” I told my therapist this summer. I knew certain things made my heart race––handling too many customers by myself at Subway during a 10 a.m. rush this summer, fiery gastrointestinal pain, fear that I just wasn’t good enough, and anything related to performance.
After a conversation with my friend about Myers Briggs personalities a couple weeks ago, I realized that our personality types can help identify anxiety triggers.
Let’s take my personality, INFJ (Introverted, Intuition, Feeling, Judging), for example. Weaknesses and workplace habits best indicate anxiety triggers. Read more about how the test works and what each letter means here.
Sensitive: INFJ’s don’t deal with criticism and conflict well. Confrontation easily makes me anxious. Someone actually asked me this week, “So, you’d rather not address conflict and let it get worse than deal with it?” My answer? “Yes.” It’s a bad habit I’m trying to break, but even small conflicts like saying “no” to extra work hours stresses me out sometimes.
Along with this, my biggest fear is disappointing others. I can become very anxious when other people criticize me because I think, “This person is so disappointed with me. I screwed up. I’m a failure.”
Extremely private: I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “Wow. I had no idea you were going through that.” But how could they know? After all, I don’t tell anyone anything unless I know them well enough (it’s a good sign if an INFJ tells you personal things because that means they really trust you!). Due to this, I often bottle up emotions and hide them even from my closest friends because I’m very independent and don’t want to admit that I can’t handle everything myself.
Since I juggle so many things, I often don’t tell people when I need a break or about what I’m really feeling. Instead, I put on a confident front. And it comes back to bite me later when I fall asleep for 14 hours straight (I’m not joking––that really happened two weeks ago). For the longest time, I didn’t even tell my parents that I was dealing with intense gastrointestinal pain. That leads to anxiety because I feel pressured to uphold the strong image I’ve created, yet I physically can’t.
Perfectionistic: This is an INFJ’s Kryptonite and an anxiety nightmare. Each INFJ has their own perfectionistic tendencies, but mine manifests in performance situations. Whether that’s needing to practice 10 hours a week, earn perfect scores on assignments, or rewrite articles several times through, I am innately perfectionistic.
My workaholism combined with perfectionism results in a very deadly combo. I’ll work on assignments for six hours straight and then find myself in tears at the end of the night because I can’t make it the way I want. I’ve developed strategies with my therapist this summer to diminish perfectionism and stay content when I earn a B in a class or don’t have as much time for certain assignments due to a full week of work. Yes, I’m still a perfectionist. But I’m learning that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. Perfection is unattainable.
Striving for growth is a great thing, but you can’t rush progress. Stay patient and remind yourself that mistakes are okay. I’ll find myself focusing on that order I messed up at work that wasn’t supposed to have cheese, or that doctors appointment I missed because I forgot to write it in my calendar. Mistakes happen and we must move on instead of letting the past haunt us. More often than not, my panic attacks come when I focus on my mess-ups.
Always need to have a cause: What does that mean? Well, I’ll explain it in layman’s terms. It means we get frustrated when obstacles come between us and our goal, even if they’re typical things. For example, I have a goal of practicing at least seven hours a week on flute. I usually do that and more, but some weeks I can only practice five hours because I’m working on big projects or cover shifts at work. At the end of the week, I find myself upset because I didn’t practice enough. However, I learned that unexpected things come up and I can’t obsess over what went wrong.
Can burn out easily: This is by far an INFJ’s biggest weakness. I have yet to meet an INFJ that doesn’t suffer from burnout. We’re naturally driven people-pleasers. We’ll try our best to help others and pour lots of time into things we’re passionate about. Most of us are also workaholics.
As a result, we’ll spend a whole day on something without taking breaks or we’ll work 30 hours a week while balancing school and other activities. The end result? We’re laying in bed pretty much the entire next day or we’ll isolate ourselves from people for an entire week. Burnout increases anxiety because we lose the energy needed to do literally anything––even simple things like eating. We then get overly concerned that we can’t finish everything on our to-do lists or sad that we have to cancel coffee with friends because we don’t even have the strength to move.
Another thing I’ll add to this that my personality page didn’t note as a weakness is emotional burnout. The majority of INFJ’s are empaths, so we absorb others’ emotions and it exhausts us emotionally. It’s okay to remove yourself from these situations and ask others for help if needed.
An INFJ only works in a place they feel comfortable in as well as express their creativity. Therefore, any environment that discourages creativity or feels uncomfortable can make our heart race and minds scream, “retreat!”
Power dynamics also make us anxious. Some of us love leading, while others don’t. Those of us who enjoy serving as leaders, however, often take a backseat approach as mentors instead of commanding leaders. We see people as equals and trust that they’re responsible enough to follow our guidance. However, some people take advantage of our kindness and completely ignore our leadership. This becomes an anxiety-inducing environment because the conflict makes us anxious.
A huge anxiety trigger is attacks on morales and values. INFJ’s stick very closely to their values and, although we don’t usually confront people, we’ll tell others off when they attack our beliefs instead of agreeing to disagree. We see it as an attack on who we are. Some people, however, are cynical and criticize everything. You have to compromise and learn coping strategies.
One of my biggest triggers is working with managers that always criticize and don’t encourage. INFJ’s need encouragement because they’re perfectionistic and need someone to tell them if they’re doing their job well. Managers that constantly give negative feedback can make an INFJ feel undervalued and lead them to quit that job. I’ve learned that a lot of managers will listen if you tell them, “Hey, I really could use some encouragement when you give critique.” They’ll usually listen and change their feedback. The result? Less anxiety for both you and them.
The end result
So, what can we make of all this?
I’d encourage you to take the Myers Briggs Personality Indicator (MBTI) test if you haven’t. Although you might not resonate with some statements on the personality profiles, chances are most of descriptions will fit you.
Learning about weaknesses, in general and in the workplace, can help us avoid anxiety-inducing situations, find ways to deal with unexpected circumstances, and develop coping strategies so we don’t lose our sanity.
I encourage you to read about your personality type, grab a pen and journal, and go through each of your weaknesses. Identify what particularly makes you anxious and then develop an action plan to combat those weaknesses.