The relationship between personality and health has been an intriguing subject for psychologists and healthcare professionals alike. Numerous studies have shown that our personality traits can have a significant impact on our physical and mental well-being. By understanding this dynamic, we can take more proactive steps to improve our health. For instance, traits like conscientiousness and openness have been linked to better health outcomes, including lower rates of chronic illness and higher levels of mental resilience.
Being aware of how your personality influences your health can empower you to make more informed choices, whether that involves seeking psychological help, adapting to lifestyle changes, or even altering your environment.
The correlation between personality and health offers an invaluable perspective for holistic well-being, encouraging an integrated approach to healthcare that considers both the body and the mind.
The Five Factor Model of personality
Psychologists often use the Five Factor Model, also known as the “Big Five“, to describe personality traits. The Big Five comprise openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, commonly abbreviated as OCEAN. Each of these traits can have implications for health.
Research shows that conscientious people are more likely to engage in health-promoting behaviours such as exercising and avoiding smoking.
Extraverts, with their social tendencies, are often thought to have stronger support networks that can act as a buffer in times of stress or illness, thereby contributing to overall well-being. Openness, another trait in the Big Five, is correlated with a willingness to try new experiences, which may extend to a broader range of healthy activities and perhaps even a more diverse diet. Agreeableness, characterised by compassion and cooperativeness, could lead to better social relationships, which have been shown to be beneficial for mental health.
But high levels of neuroticism, which often involve mood swings and emotional instability, are commonly linked to various mental health issues such as anxiety and depression and even to physical ailments like heart disease. This underlines the significance of personality in shaping health outcomes and highlights the need for healthcare approaches that are attuned to individual personality traits.
How different personality traits affect physical health
Conscientiousness and extraversion have generally been associated with positive health outcomes. Highly conscientious individuals tend to be more disciplined and organised, which often translates to better dietary and exercise habits.
However, it’s not always that straightforward. High levels of agreeableness are linked with a higher body mass index (BMI) and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. This could be due to the tendency of agreeable people to put others’ needs before their own, sometimes to the detriment of their health.
Similarly, while extraversion may generally be associated with positive health outcomes, it can also lead to risk-taking behaviours, such as excessive alcohol consumption or reckless driving, that are detrimental to health. This complex interplay between personality traits and health outcomes emphasises the need for a nuanced understanding rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare. For example, healthcare providers could develop tailored intervention strategies that leverage an individual’s strengths while also addressing their vulnerabilities.
Personality assessments could become a standard part of medical evaluations, offering clinicians additional context for their diagnoses and treatment plans. By acknowledging and understanding the impact of personality on health, both individuals and healthcare providers can work towards more effective and personalised health solutions.
Mental health and personality
Neuroticism has often been linked to poorer mental health outcomes. People with high levels of neuroticism are more prone to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
On the flip side, openness and agreeableness have been linked to greater psychological resilience. People with these traits often have better coping mechanisms and are more adaptable to stressful situations.
The contrast between the health outcomes associated with neuroticism and those linked to openness and agreeableness brings another layer of complexity to the relationship between personality and health. It suggests that some traits may serve as protective factors, enhancing our ability to bounce back from health setbacks or manage chronic conditions effectively. For example, an individual with high levels of agreeableness may excel at forming supportive social connections, which have been proven to alleviate stress and boost mental health.
Someone who scores high on openness may be more willing to explore various treatment options, both conventional and alternative, to manage their health. Understanding the multifaceted role of personality traits in health could lead to the development of interventions that aim to cultivate these positive traits as a complementary strategy to treating physical and mental conditions.
Tailoring healthcare to personality types
Understanding the link between personality and health can help healthcare providers tailor treatment plans. For instance, a highly conscientious person may be more willing to stick to a rigid treatment regime, while an extraverted individual may find group therapy more beneficial.
Incorporating personality assessments into healthcare can thus enable more personalised and effective treatments, contributing to better health outcomes for individuals.
This approach not only has the potential to improve patient satisfaction but also to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery. For example, a personalised treatment plan that aligns with an individual’s personality traits could result in quicker recovery times, fewer hospital readmissions, and a lower likelihood of treatment non-compliance.
By focusing on the interplay between personality and health, healthcare providers could also develop preventive measures that resonate with different personality types. This could include crafting public health messages that appeal to a range of personalities or designing fitness programmes that cater to different traits, like group workouts for extraverts and solo exercises for introverts.
A more personalised approach to healthcare, grounded in an understanding of personality, could revolutionise the way we think about and manage both physical and mental health.
Making conscious choices
While we can’t drastically change our inherent personality traits, being aware of their potential impact on our health can inform our decisions. For instance, if you know you have a propensity for neuroticism, mindfulness techniques can be employed to better manage stress and anxiety.
Highly agreeable people, who are prone to putting others’ needs ahead of their own, could learn to set boundaries to prioritise their own well-being. This self-awareness could extend to making informed decisions about diet, exercise, and even social interactions. For example, an extravert who is aware of their tendency towards risk-taking might choose to engage in safer, yet still stimulating, activities. Moreover, this kind of awareness could be beneficial in the workplace, where understanding one’s own personality traits and those of colleagues can contribute to a healthier work environment, thereby reducing work-related stress and improving overall well-being. Through a combination of self-awareness and strategic action, individuals can mitigate the negative health impacts of certain personality traits while amplifying the positive ones.
A mutually influential relationship
It’s crucial to remember that the relationship between personality and health is mutually influential. Just as our personality traits can affect our health, our physical and mental state can also shape our personality over time.
Therefore, it’s in our best interest to take a proactive approach to both mental and physical health, as improvements in one area can positively influence the other.
Understanding the intricate relationship between personality and health is not just an academic exercise; it’s a pathway to more personalised healthcare and better health outcomes. By recognising how our personality traits can influence our health – for better or worse – we are empowered to make more informed choices that can significantly improve our well-being.
Melissa Thompson is a freelance health and psychology writer with a degree in behavioural science.