Personality, Stress and Your Heart Disease Risk
Posted on Oct 9, 2012
When you think of typical heart attack risk factors, the first things that come to mind may be things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, and family history. All of these risks are common in South Asians, as well as other communities. However, did you know that your stressful personality can also be a risk for heart disease? You may be familiar with the “type A” personality, which consists of individuals who are impatient, aggressive and very competitive. These types of personality characteristics can be associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
Type A and time pressure
There are some other personality traits that are less obvious, but can also contribute to heart disease risk. One of these includes the element of time pressure, which is a core component of the type A personality and is independently associated with heart disease risk. This means that even if you are not the aggressive, competitive type, constantly being in a rush to meet the overwhelming demands of an overflowing schedule may still put you at risk. Many people use the word “deadline” to convey the urgency of tasks that need to be completed, even though many of these tasks are not urgent and can wait. “Hurry sickness” is actually a phrase coined forty years ago by a cardiologist who noticed that nearly all of his heart disease patients were in a constant rush to get things done.
Related to time urgency is our compulsion to constantly multitask. How many times have you been on a conference call while surfing the Internet? How about driving and texting or having a conversation with your child while trying to take care of work or personal e-mails on the computer? Multitasking has not been directly correlated with heart disease risk, but it does have effects on brain function by reducing our ability to learn and recall new information. It can also increase stress levels which are connected to heart disease risk. When eating is a part of multitasking, such as eating while watching TV or surfing the net, we typically overeat by ignoring our sensation of fullness. Make eating a mindful and undistracted practice. Excessive multitasking often reduces the quality of our work, the nature of our conversations, and ultimately the types of relationships we have with our family, coworkers and community.
Many people, particularly men, have a tendency to internalize emotions such as anger and frustration. Studies show that individuals who internalize emotions are at greater risk for chronic health conditions such as heart disease. If you feel uncomfortable opening up to your spouse or partner, try to find a trusted confidant to whom you can express your emotion. This might be your doctor, a coworker or friend, or a therapist. If you just can’t open up to anyone about a particularly stressful situation or have difficulty releasing a pent-up emotion, be sure to have some practice that allows you to let out steam, such as regular exercise.
Some additional tips to help manage stress
- Avoid over-scheduling. Each morning scan your schedule and to-do-list and realistically determine how much you can handle
- Learn to say no. If you are already feeling the effects of stress or constant time urgency, do not feel compelled to accept every social invitation or work-related projects. Try scheduling free time for a change.
- When you’re feeling overwhelmed, try slowing down. Walk slower, talk slower, and breathe slower.
- Try to incorporate some type of mindfulness practice, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, etc. (PAMF offers an 8 week class on mindfulness based stress reduction) (
- Visit the South Asian section of the PAMF website and check out our heart health and emotional health sections for more information and tips on reducing stress and increasing wellness.
This blog post is contributed by Ronesh (Ron) Sinha, M.D., PAMF Internal Medicine. Dr. Sinha works closely with the South Asian community to help reduce heart disease and diabetes risk, and provides corporate health lectures to promote wellness in the workplace. Dr. Sinha holds clinical faculty positions at the University of California, Los Angeles; Stanford University School of Medicine, and the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. He teaches Stanford and UCSF medical students.