Attitude, Personality, and Heart Disease
Are you a hothead? You’d better cool it – you might be endangering your health. A growing body of evidence points to various types of stress as the main contributors to the development of heart disease. While it is hard to define “stress,” most of us know it when we feel it.
Environmental and psychosocial factors–such as job strain, social isolation, and personality traits–can lead to the development of stress. The body’s response to stress is to pump adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream–hormones that elevate heart rates, blood pressure, and cholesterol, and contribute to atherosclerosis. This is how stress causes heart disease.
Most experts blame the so-called “type A” personality–often characterized by a frantic, hard-driving attitude, aggressiveness, and competitiveness—as the most common cause for the nervous system to work overtime. However, even occasionally losing your cool, though it does not make you a “type A,” can be hazardous to your health. New research suggests that the related trait of hostility (cynicism, mistrust, aggressive anger) is more clearly linked to heart disease, as is the “hot reactor” personality type, whose blood pressure shoots up under pressure, than once believed.
To determine whether you have a personality type that predisposes you to heart disease, look for these characteristics:
- cynical mistrust of other people’s motives
- frequent anger
- frustration or fear of situations coupled with uncertainty and doubt about people’s abilities
- open expressions of anger, including contemptuous looks or statements
- depression and anxiety
- time urgency, such as honking your horn repeatedly at other drivers
If you share any of these traits, the “cure” is not to suppress your anger. Instead, you need to learn to recognize and cope with anger and hostility. Then release them.
What’s the best way to do this? Laugh it off. People who are able to find humor in situations will be better off health-wise than their more anxious peers, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association Annual Scientific Session in New Orleans, 2000. University of Maryland researchers compared the humor responses of 150 persons who had suffered a heart attack or undergone angioplasty to those of 150 healthy people. Results showed that heart patients were 40 percent less likely than their healthy counterparts to laugh in a variety of common situations.
The researchers suggested that mental stress impairs the protective lining of the blood vessels. Laughter, on the other hand, may release protective chemicals that counteract these adverse effects. Perhaps it’s true: “Laughter is the best medicine.”
There are other ways to reset your automatic reactions to stressful situations and to become more positive about life. Some experts recommend taking stress-reduction classes, such as yoga, meditation, biofeedback. Even just taking time each day to unwind by reading, exercising, or gardening can help. Your primary care doctor or cardiologist can suggest ways you can release anxiety and reduce your risk of heart disease. Or, visit the Alliance Institute for Integrative Medicine.
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