For decades, researchers have known that having a type A personality — being angry, hostile, aggressive, competitive, achievement-oriented and/or impatient — isn’t good for your heart. Now, a growing body of research suggests that having a chronically distressed (or type D) personality — being pessimistic, anxious, depressed and socially inhibited — is dangerous for your body as well:
- According to recent research from Tiburg University in the Netherlands, people with heart disease and a type D personality have triple the risk of future cardiovascular problems, such as peripheral artery disease, heart failure or premature death.
- Another study published in BMC Public Health linked type D personality to increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome, a constellation of conditions (cholesterol abnormalities, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, an increased waist circumference) that increases your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K. found people with a type D personality are at higher risk for mental or emotional burnout.
How Type D Personality Harms Your Health
“The effects are multifactorial,” says Barry J. Jacobs, who has a doctorate in psychology and is a spokesman for the American Heart Association. “People who have a tendency toward negativity react to stress and negative events differently physiologically — with a greater release of stress hormones (like cortisol) and increased heart and respiration rates — than people who are more optimistic do. Those with a greater pessimistic tendency also may be less apt to believe they have the power to take care of their own well-being, so they may not believe it’s worth it to go to the doctor or be compliant with a medication regimen or follow a healthy lifestyle.”
Even worse, “Usually this is a personality style with a long history, so it takes time to change it,” says Carol Landau, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a professor at Brown University. But it can be done if you’re patient and persistent. Here, a few strategies that can help:
- Correct warped thinking. If your boss is cranky with you, instead of catastrophizing (contemplating the worst possible scenario), overgeneralizing (viewing this as part of an endless pattern of misfortune) or personalizing (thinking you played a role in bringing it on), correct these maladaptive ways of thinking, advises Jacobs. Remind yourself that one bad day doesn’t mean your future is doomed and that maybe your boss is simply in a bad mood and you have nothing to do with it. Correcting negative or distorted thinking will help your mood and outlook to be more buoyant.
- Find your decompression valve. Research shows that regularly engaging in relaxation techniques can ease stress and negativity. “Take seven to 10 minutes a couple of times per day to relax by focusing on your breathing, listening to soothing music or doing visualization,” suggests Landau.
- Keep a positivity journal. “At the end of the day, direct your attention to five things you enjoyed today or five positive aspects of your life or environment,” Jacobs suggests. When you count your blessings, “you’re more likely to see the world as a kind place and have more hope for yourself and the future,” he says.
- Consider therapy. “A lot of type D people don’t want to go to therapy because their worst fear is that a therapist will say, ‘How do you feel?’ and they don’t want to talk about their feelings,” says Landau. But cognitive-behavioral therapy explores how your thoughts trigger your emotions and what you do with them. In mindfulness training, you learn to become aware of daily events and emotions and put them in perspective. Both of these approaches can help, she says, and many people with type D personalities find them to be more acceptable than traditional talk therapy.
So if you think you may have a type D personality, take these steps to decrease negative emotions and increase positive thinking; you might begin to see the proverbial glass as half-full!