We’ve all known someone who is extremely impatient, driven and who conducts business on the cell phone while rushing to her kid’s soccer game that started 30 minutes ago. While often hurrying herself and others, too busy for chit-chat and overly committed, she still looks successful and we wonder “how does she do it?”
Maybe this is someone you work with, someone you live with or maybe it’s you. With the incidence of heart disease rising among men and women and at younger and younger ages, how we live our lives is a necessary part of prevention. Understanding the characteristics of Type A personality and its relation to heart disease is important so you can do something about it before it’s too late.
Type A personality, also referred to as Type A Behavior Pattern or TABP, was recognized by Meyer Friedman, MD and Roy Rosenman, MD in the 1950’s. These cardiologists identified a strong relationship between heart disease and certain emotional and psychological characteristics they defined as Type A personality. The two cardinal features of TABP are impatience and free-floating hostility.
Impatience, or time urgency, is the need to achieve more in less time. We now refer to this as “multi-tasking” and it is often viewed as a desirable method of managing numerous responsibilities. Time urgency occurs in those who are preoccupied with productivity and who feel they will attain true happiness and success based on what they can “produce.” This is not just a hazard of those who work in corporate America. Stay- at-home moms can have “to do” lists that rival the billable hours of an attorney working to make partner in a law firm.
Free-floating hostility is that ever present sense of irritation that quickly turns to anger. Typically, the level of hostility is not justified compared to the situation that provoked it. Road rage is an example of this. Yelling, swearing and making obscene gestures when cut off by another driver or because the car in front of you isn’t going fast enough are examples of an emotional reaction far exceeding the situation at hand.
In many ways, TABP exemplifies the American lifestyle which overvalues competition, time efficiency and materialism. We tend to idealize those who do things to extremes – the supermoms raising their kids and caring for their aging parents, those who exercise several hours everyday, those who skip rungs while climbing the corporate ladder, etc. – but don’t stop to recognize the physical price they may be paying for their ‘achievements.’
Within our culture it is easy to see how someone can be trapped into believing TABP will bring happiness. We often look to external sources for our happiness such as more money, fancier houses, better cars, weight loss, etc. Daily life is filled with demands, stressors and expectations that are often self-imposed and require that we push ourselves as hard as possible, every minute of the day. Anything less is “lazy” and, besides, you probably compare yourself to the “others” who look like they do more than you.
Although we may find ourselves amazed by the ability of some to not only fulfill, but exceed their goals, fill every minute productively and do so with apparent ease, we typically don’t think about the physical and emotional consequences of TABP.
Over time, the traits of TABP can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disorders and stroke. How does TABP affect the heart? Some of the effects are indirect. People with TABP tend not to take very good care of themselves, so will often smoke, eat poorly, drink too much and not get adequate sleep. Those with high levels of hostility often lack social support because they end up driving others away.
But there are direct biological consequences to hostility as well. Impatient and hostile people get all worked up and angry about things most people find to be mildly irritating. As a result, their stress level is in high gear all the time. Under stress, our bodies produce higher levels of hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine and glucocorticoids. With high levels of these hormones circulating in our systems on a regular basis, blood pressure elevates. When blood pressure is consistently high, the heart and blood vessels have to work harder and will eventually wear out.
A chronic increase in blood pressure also damages the smooth inner lining of blood vessels. As a result of this damage, tiny pockets develop in the vessels. Fat, glucose and cholesterol floating in the bloodstream get caught in these pockets and create atherosclerotic plaque. Plaque can cause blockage in a vessel or, if plaque tears loose, it can block a smaller vessel completely. Blockage in a coronary artery causes a heart attack while blockage in a blood vessel in the brain causes a stroke.
The good news is that TABP can be changed. It’s not fun to be angry and rushed all the time. Therapy is an excellent way of learning how these behavior patterns developed, what functions they serve and, most important, more adaptive ways of coping with life’s expectations and irritations. Take a look at the following TABP characteristics. If you don’t have time to recover from a heart attack or open heart surgery, then it’s a good idea to get some help for these things now.
Intolerant of errors, waiting in lines, others who don’t move fast enough?
Frequently losing your temper?
Unable to actually enjoy and appreciate your accomplishments?
Always setting higher goals and expectations for yourself?
Chronically stressed, irritated, frustrated?
Unable to relax, rest, and do nothing for awhile?
Always working from an agenda or “to do” list that never ends?
Highly competitive, overly ambitious?
Told by others to calm down, slow down, chill out?
Insecure regardless of what you achieve?
Thinking about other ‘more important’ things when someone is talking to you?
Sensitive to having your weaknesses pointed out?
Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw?
Typically hurrying from one thing to the next?
Take the time to deal with these things now – before you wake up looking at the ceiling of an ambulance or an operating room! We can help you remain productive and find effective ways of dealing with TABP – Call us today at 414-774-6878.