• Shawn Wilson, Ph.D.

Type D Personality and Exercise

Most of us have heard of people having a Type A or Type B personality. Type A personality is characterized by being outgoing, ambitious, highly organized, impatient, highly concerned about time management, and/or aggressive. Type B personality on the other hand is viewed as somewhat the opposite of Type A, and is seen as being more relaxed, passive, and accepting.

One major difference between these two personality types is that individuals with a Type A personality are supposedly more negatively impacted by stress, due to their hostile and impatient style. Indeed, research has linked having a Type A personality with coronary heart disease, although this link is somewhat contested now. Regardless, it makes sense that our personality is linked to our health.

While Type A and Type B personalities have received more attention in the news, there are also other personality types. One such personality type is called Type D, with D standing for 'distressed.'

Individuals with a Type D personality have a tendency towards negative emotions (also called negative affectivity) including anxiety, self-doubt, irritability, and depressive feelings. In addition, individuals with a Type D personality tend to experience social inhibition and keep to themselves.

As described in a New York Times article discussing Type D personality and exercise, those with a Type D personality could be characterized as being similar to Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh. Unfortunately, those with a Type D personality tend not to discuss the stress or negative feelings they are experiencing with others. It is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of people have a Type D personality traits, which seems like a high number of people who are consistently experiencing mostly negative emotions.

The Type D personality style, similar to the Type A personality style, is associated with coronary heart disease, albeit for different reasons. One of the reasons that individuals with Type D personality traits are more likely to have heart disease is because they tend to be more sedentary.

Why are these individuals more sedentary? Research suggests it is in part due to feeling inadequate about participating in physical activities. In addition, more recent research suggests that those with Type D traits tend to not seek feedback or help from others and instead are often resign themselves to poor physical performance.

It is easy to see how this could become a self-fulfilling prophecy where someone believes they are not good at an activity and by not seeking support or help, eventually performs consistently worse than peers on the task. It also makes sense that we are not going to want to do things we feel objectively bad at.

The lesson to be learned? We should all think about our personality style and ways that this style both benefits us and perhaps leads to negative outcomes. While the first step is recognizing ways our personality is perhaps harming our health, the next step is to actually do something about it.

In a therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), one important concept is the idea of 'opposite action.' Opposite action encourages people when they feel a harmful or distressing emotion to engage in a positive, opposite behavior.

For example, if someone is feeling like they want to withdraw and hide from others, perhaps from shame or self-doubt, an opposite action might be to purposefully talk to someone and express these negative feelings to obtain support and encouragement. This idea of opposite action is just one example of a tool that might be useful for those with Type D personality.

Ultimately, regardless of our personality type, it is important that we try to practice positive coping strategies and maintaining a healthy lifestyle - admittedly a difficult and lifelong challenge. One thing is clear, asking for help is never a sign of weakness and as this new research suggests, may make a significant difference in not only how we feel about ourselves, but also our performance.

NYT article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/23/well/move/are-you-a-type-d-athlete-relax-and-ask-for-help.html

The Clinically Relevant Insights Blog, part of ShawnWilsonPhD.com, shares news and research regarding psychology and wellness.

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© 2020 by Shawn Wilson