We realize that it would be pretty unreasonable to ask you to consider changing your personality as a means of reducing the stress in your life. That would be like saying, "All you need to do is not be who you are." We do think we would be remiss, however, if we did not let you know about some important issues in the connection between personality and stress.

Like other important scientific discoveries, this came while something else was being investigated. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, cardiologists interested in figuring out what caused heart problems, made a major breakthrough when it became clear to them that their patients shared some of the same personality characteristics. (Indeed, one of the initial indicators that informed their research was not anything physiological, but instead the patterns of wear and tear on the front edges of the chairs in the waiting rooms of doctors' offices.)

Their research, reported to the general public in the book Type A Behavior and Your Heart (1974), pointed toward two basic personality types, which you will see are diametrically opposed to each other. They labeled the two personalities Type A and Type B, and we have summarized them below.

  • Driven by ambition
  • Self-demanding
  • Sense of time urgency
  • Aggressive
  • Competitive
  • Impatient
  • Free-floating (but well rationalized) hostility

Attributes are the mirror opposite of Type A :

  • Less competitive
  • Less rushed
  • More genuinely easygoing
  • Able to separate work from play
  • Not rushed or impatient
  • Evenhanded
  • Non-hostile

And, in the interests of our work together, the crucial issue about Type A and Type B personalities is that

Type B's are only around 1/7th as likely as Type A's are to have a heart attack or to develop heart disease.

 


Clearly, this is serious business. And just to make matters a little more interesting for you, we also should point out that:
  1. most of us are a blend of Type A and Type B, as opposed to everyone's being a "pure type" and
  2. although Type A's face significant health risks compared to Type B's, this does not mean that Type A characteristics are useless and Type B characteristics are desirable in all situations. For example, when it is time for the next time-sensitive, goal-directed activity, would you rather have a bunch of Type A's or Type B's working on it?


The bottom line issue is that it is possible for
Type A's to learn some health-promoting Type B behaviors
(Friedman & Ulmer, 1984)

This can put them less at risk for the kind of perpetual emotional arousal -- and related stress -- that over the long run can cause serious health problems. Whether by exercise, relaxation, dietary choices and eating behaviors, or other means, it is possible for a person to develop the kinds of behavioral habits that correlate with Type B personality characteristics.