Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Type D Personality and The Heart

There is a renewed emphasis on the profound relationship between your emotions and the health of your heart. If you’re serious about leading a fulfilling life, if you’re serious about living, you’d better get with the program.

There are some people that seem to be immune from stress, immune from destructive emotions, immune from high pressure jobs. So what’s the secret to keeping your risk of heart attack low?

This is your friendly neighborhood psychologist, Dr. John and today I’m writing about the powerful link between your heart and your mind and how it affects everything you are, everything you do – your health, your relationships, your happiness, everything.

Negative mood?
Let me ask you some questions. Do you often feel unhappy? Do you complain about unimportant things? Are you irritated much of the time? Are you often in a bad mood? If you answered “yes” to two of these questions, you are halfway there. You are at risk of having a negative mood.

Socially inhibited?
Here’s some more questions: Do you frequently talk to strangers? Do you make friends easily? Do you have a hard time starting a conversation? Do you have a hard time finding things to talk about? If you answered “yes” to two of these questions, you’re at risk for being socially inhibited, or shy and withdrawn.

When you put these two factors together, a negative mood, and being shy and withdrawn, you have the Type D personality – distressed. Distress and disease go hand in hand. 54% of people with a Type D personality aged 40 to 70 have high blood pressure. This is compared to only 19% of the general population (without Type D personality) who have high blood pressure.

Many of you are already aware that chronic destructive feelings such as anger, fear and sadness take a huge toll on your health, your happiness, and your relationships. Emotions are our primary driving force. Nearly everything we say, do or think begins with emotion. Even the word itself, emotion, means an impetus to act.

The risk from destructive emotions is nearly as great as obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. For instance, depression makes an otherwise healthy person twice as likely to die from a heart attack. For those of us younger than 60, constant anger ups your chances of dying by heart attack by more than 50%. And this includes anger that you turn inwards towards yourself as well as anger at others.

Check this out: Even traumatic events from your childhood, such as abuse, domestic violence or alcoholic parents, increases your heart attack risk by up to 70%! Heart disease is the leading cause of death in every developed country on the planet. And depression leads to heart disease.

Why does depression and distress affect the heart?
The increased risk of heart disease in those with the Type D personality, depressive or distressful tendencies, is related to poor functioning of the arteries, according to a 2005 study.

Your heart pushes blood to every part of your body – to your brain so you can think clearly, to your digestive system so you can break down food, to your muscles so you can exercise. Every adult in America, Asia and Europe has a 40% chance of dying from heart disease. And they’ve got a 1 in 2 chance that their quality of life will be screwed up by arterial aging disease. The important thing is to realize is that damaged arteries impair your memory, harm all your other organs, and mess up your sex life.

Having a Type D personality also is related to irregular heartbeats, known as arrhythmias. Depression has been related to more blood platelet groupings, which means that more clots form which can clog your arteries. It also leads to a smaller social network and lonely hearts. And we know that having a large circle of friends and family can provide a buffer against heart disease.

Let me share with you a little bit about the heart
Your heart is far more powerful than you ever dreamed. Your heart pumps blood sixty to seventy times per minute, every minute of your life, without ever taking a break. And the most significant factor in your heart’s health is the health of your arteries – they transport the blood throughout your body. The biggest barrier to getting that blood to the places it needs to be is coronary artery disease. When your arteries become partially blocked, your heart muscle weakens because it can’t get enough blood. And seeing the world in a pessimistic manner, being depressed damages your arteries.

So how do some people keep their risk of heart attack down? How do you keep your heart healthy?

The key to NOT having a heart attack is the sense of control you have over your life and the circumstances around you.

Those who feel they are in control of their life have a lower risk of heart troubles.

Those who feel that their lives are out of control have a really good chance of a heart attack.

If you believe that control of life is external, or outside yourself, then you believe that your behavior is guided by fate, luck, or other external circumstances.

If you believe that control of life is internal, or comes from within you, then you think that your behavior is guided by your own intentions, decisions and efforts.
Here’s the key: You are more resilient, healthy and happy to the extent that you believe that you have the power to change the situation. Again, here is a situation where your brain doesn’t know the difference between your inner reality of thoughts and feelings and the outer world, or reality. Merely believing that you have the power to control the situation is powerful. You must believe that you can influence events around you.

The beliefs that you have about what you control are also known as "attributions". Attribution refers to how you explain events that happen to you and others. Different kinds of attributional styles have been found to explain why different individuals react quite differently to situations and more importantly how they explain the causes of those events. Most people tend to have a self-serving bias. For example, in general, people tend to make:

Internal attributions about themselves when they succeed (i.e., I did it myself)

Internal attributions about others when they fail (i.e., it was their fault)

External attributions about themselves when they fail (i.e., Something else made me fail)

External attributions about others when they succeed (i.e., they got lucky)

In the simplest terms, it is more desirable and heart healthy to believe that you can influence things around you -- that is you have an internal locus of control.

Having an internal locus of control can also be referred to as "personal control" or "self-determination". Research has found that:

Men tend to feel more personal control than females

As people get older they tend to feel more personal control

People higher up in companies tend to feel more personal control.

On the whole, research has found that people who believe that they control their lives (internal locus of control) are better off -- they tend to be better paid, have a better quality of life and are happier. These beliefs about what you can and cannot control are learned.

So let me go over the symptoms of depression so that you can recognize it if you or someone you know is suffering from it. The symptoms of depression which are highly associated with a Type D personality are:

Feeling depressed, sad or empty
Lack of interest in activities that you once enjoyed
Loss of appetite or eating too much
Sleep trouble
Feeling restless or agitated
Low energy, fatigue or burnout
Feeling guilty or worthless
Inability to think or focus
Anxiety or nervousness
Constant negative thoughts
Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Now understand that even those folks with minor depression will suffer damage to the inside of their arteries and are more likely to participate in high risk behaviors, such as smoking and substance abuse. Take the necessary steps now to ensure a healthy mind and heart for life.

Your friendly neighborhood psychologist,
Dr. John
Guide To Self on KDIA 1640 AM
Monday through Friday, 5 pm

Guide To Self(C) 2005. All rights reserved.


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