Your health is shaped by your genes, body and mind, and your personality can also play a role in how healthy you are and how long you live.
Why does personality affect health?
Your personality guides your behaviors and habits, and both play a big part in your overall health. The way you handle stress, your activity level, how often you socialize or see your doctor — all of these things are affected by your personality traits, starting early on.
Studies have shown that certain traits in childhood — being agreeable, conscientious, intelligent or imaginative — can influence health later in life. Children who have these traits tend to be more educated, adopt healthy eating habits, don’t smoke and live longer.
Here are 13 personality traits that may affect your health
Type A or Type B
Type A people tend to be driven, hardworking and results-oriented. This ambitious streak can lead to personal and professional success, but it may also create stress or social isolation, which puts people at a higher risk of heart disease.
Type B people tend to be laid back, doing things for enjoyment rather than out of a desire to achieve. Type B people are good at coping with stress and anxiety, which can lead to better heart health. On the other hand, being so relaxed may also mean taking a less proactive approach to health or work.
The terms “Type A” and “Type B” actually come from a 1950s study in which a cardiologist noticed a connection between certain traits and heart problems. Today, experts say we should think of ourselves less as one type or the other and more as somewhere on a spectrum between them.
Optimists, or people who “look on the bright side,” tend to give themselves credit for achievements and assume good things will last. Optimists often cope better with disease, trying to find humor in tough situations. Optimism can lower blood pressure and risk of heart attack, which makes people healthier and helps them live longer. On the other hand, being overly optimistic can leave people unprepared for tough situations and make them less capable of honestly assessing risks and rewards.
Pessimists often blame themselves for negative outcomes and feel like bad things will go on forever, which creates stress. Studies have shown that highly pessimistic people are more likely to develop high blood pressure and heart disease and may not live as long. On the other hand, research shows that when people expect the worst, they might also be more careful, which could lead to fewer accidents or illnesses, and they are often better prepared to cope with challenging situations.
People who are social and outgoing may have stronger immune systems. Scientists aren’t sure why, but extroverts’ bodies tend to react more quickly to inflammation, which may help prevent infection. Another theory is that extroverts are more likely to put themselves in stressful situations, so their immune systems are more engaged in protecting their bodies. Extroverts may also be more willing to seek medical help when they need it.
Social support is a big factor in developing healthy behaviors and coping skills. Introverts — people who are typically quiet, reserved, and introspective — may be slower to seek medical help when they need it, particularly for mental health issues. However, introverts also enjoy examining their own thoughts, which can make them more self-aware and satisfied.
Impulsive people act on their whims, often without considering the consequences. This can lead to unhealthy behaviors, including substance abuse or compulsive activities such as gambling. Impulsive people also tend to be spontaneous, creative, bold and courageous. Successful impulsive people learn how to recognize and foster good impulses and resist bad ones.
While having an “addictive personality” is not a real psychiatric diagnosis, addiction is a real disease that affects up to 400,000 Tennesseans. People who suffer from addiction are often risk-takers in some capacity, though there is no one personality trait that predicts who will become addicted to substances and who won’t. What we do know is:
- Genes are responsible for about half the likelihood a person will become addicted
- People who have one addiction are more likely to have another
- When it comes to substance abuse, addictive thinking involves blaming things on other people, self-centeredness, impatience, and repetition of the behavior. Addicts believe they are in control of something when other the people in their lives can clearly see that they are not. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, click here.
Narcissists are people who admire themselves excessively, or think the world revolves around them. That can have negative health implications, especially for men. Narcissistic men — those who take advantage of others and feel they deserve special treatment — are more likely to have health issues such as heart problems. Experts think this may be due to high levels of the stress-related chemical cortisol in their system.
People who have neuroticism often experience anxiety, self-doubt, depression and shyness. All people are neurotic to some degree, but those who have strong neuroticism may experience mood disorders, loneliness and self-consciousness. On the other hand, neurotic people are also good at planning ahead and are often successful at work.
People who are conscientious — those who do things carefully, well and thoroughly — tend to eat well and exercise, are less likely to abuse substances, and generally live longer. Conscientious people are high-achieving, dependable, and likely to be in stable relationships, which improves health. However, conscientious people may be more susceptible to illness. Scientists aren’t sure why, but some believe children with weaker immune systems may subconsciously become more cautious to protect themselves, and that personality trait can continue into adulthood.
Agreeable people are thoughtful, compassionate and social. They are dedicated to resolving confrontations, which makes them happy and well-adjusted. Agreeable people are also accommodating, so they may be more likely to follow their doctor’s orders, which is good for their health. However people-pleasers may also feel hopeless in the face of difficult health situations, and they may be less likely to get help when something is wrong because they don’t want to be a burden. They may also let problems fester rather than addressing them head-on in order to avoid confrontation, which can lead to increased anxiety.
Resiliency may be a new term for some people, but it’s something the medical community has long valued. Being resilient means adapting well to adversity, trauma, tragedy or stress. People who are resilient are also often curious, sociable, and cooperative. Resilient people are more likely to exercise, stay engaged with people and with the world, and enjoy exercising their brain, which keeps them mentally sharp.
Some people are born resilient, and some learn the skill from parents or other caring adults. The good news: it’s never too late to become more resilient. Click here to learn how.
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.