Updated September 18, 2013
“Personality as independent predictor of long-term mortality in patients with coronary heart disease” by Johan Denollet in the February 17, 1996 issue of the Lancet found the tendency to suppress emotional distress was associated with a 4-fold increase in the risk of dying of heart disease (347:417). They studied 268 men and 35 women with a documented history of coronary heart disease for 6 to 10 years. They focused on the tendency of people to inhibit self-expression in social interaction (social inhibition) and the tendency to experience negative emotions. This was termed a “distressed personality” or type-D personality. This personality was associated with depression and social alienation.
Personality might promote heart disease by causing spasms of the heart arteries, activation of platelets, and an increase in the tendency for the blood to clot–blocking off the flow of blood to the heart muscle. Mental stress could cause an increase in heart rate in patients with narrowed arteries. This demand on the heart might cause irregular heart beats that could kill. Type-D personality people may also be less interested in straightening out their diet and lifestyle, and adhering to medical advice. They may communicate less effectively with their doctor. Social isolation, depression, and emotional exhaustion have been found to increase the risk of death from heart disease, and overall life expectancy.
Personality traits may be associated with more disease, especially heart disease; however, this issue must be placed in practical terms. First of all, what can you do about it? Personalities are hard to change, and thoughts are near impossible to control. Even if an effective means to change someone from a type-D personality were available, there is no evidence that this would change the risk of death, unless the connection was with a type-D personality and unhealthy diet and lifestyle behaviors.
Even though some personality traits are harmful and impossible to change, you always have the option to change the way you act out your thoughts and feelings. Even if you feel depressed, inhibited, and negative about things, you don’t have to take it out on yourself by smoking more cigarettes, drinking more coffee and alcohol, eating more greasy foods, and skipping your daily exercise. By maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle you will avoid illnesses, including heart disease, and weight gain, even when times are emotionally tough. In addition, there are several practical things you can do to help you improve your mental outlook. Exercise, high carbohydrate foods, and managing to sleep less have all been found to relieve depression and improve overall feelings of well being.