Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Personality and Heart Disease: How Personality Type Can Impact Your Heart Health
In my daily practice of cardiology, I see so many different people of diverse backgrounds and broad ranges of life experiences. I learned early on not to typecast. The hard-driving businessman may play the dobro and hang out at the lake in his off time, while the quiet mother of three may spend her summers leading white water river adventures. Trying to categorize individuals by personality often simply showcases our own biases and preconceptions. Nevertheless, decades of research have shown that certain characteristics that many of us possess can affect our risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other illnesses.
Most of us are familiar with the Type A personality. We may think of these people as competitive and impatient, and it’s a common notion that a Type A will inevitably drive himself into a heart attack. It’s true that Type A's do tend to have more dramatic reactions to stress, and are often at least as hard on themselves as they are on others. That’s one reason why the more hostile Type A individuals tend to be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. However, a Type A who learns to channel her energy into constructive habits such as exercise will often thrive.
Type B's are the laid-back easy going surfer dudes who just don’t worry about much. That sounds like a nice way to live, but Type B's often fail to take personal responsibility for their own health seriously, figuring that it will all work out in the end. That’s one reason why Type B's do worse after a heart attack than other personality types.
If you’re a Type C, you are more apt to appease others than to assert yourself. Type C people tend to bottle up their emotions and keep their opinions to themselves. We don’t know much about how this personality type impacts heart disease, but there are studies linking the Type C personality to cancer risk.
Type D's are pessimists. Like Type B's, they may not seek medical care when needed, but for the Type D individual, this is often due to a sense of depression and a feeling that most things are out of their control. Type D's often tend to do poorly after a heart attack, since they may fail to make any healthy lifestyle changes.
Your personality is not your destiny. If you recognize some of these traits in yourself, it is worth taking stock of your approach to life’s stressors and roadblocks, and deciding if there are some positive and life-affirming changes you can put into action. Of course, if your stress seems overwhelming and hopeless, then it’s time to seek professional help. A good doctor or therapist can work with you to get your life back on a positive track.
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