'Life Force' Linked to Your Ability to Withstand Stress
Your ability to withstand stress-related, inflammatory diseases may be related to your personality. Especially in aging women, a lack of the personality trait known as extroversion may signal that blood levels of a key inflammatory molecule have crossed over a threshold linked to a doubling of risk of death within five years.
A study found that that extroverts, and in particular those high "dispositional activity" or engagement in life, have dramatically lower levels of the inflammatory chemical interleukin 6 (IL-6). Extroverts tend to be focused on the world around them and are most happy when active and surrounded by people. Introverts look inward and are shy.
For the study, degree of extroversion was determined by standard tests, including the NEO Five-Factor Inventory. The study found that the difference between the 84th percentile of dispositional activity and the 16th translated roughly into a 1.29 picogram increase in IL-6 per milliliter of blood.
Eurekalert June 17, 2009
Brain, Behavior and Immunity July 2009; 23(5):636-42
Dr. Mercola's Comments
This isn't the first time science has shown that your outlook and personality traits affect your ability to bounce back from stress, and have the power to shape your health and impact your longevity.
This makes all the sense in the world when you consider that long-term exposure to stress hormones will eventually take its toll on your biological processes and internal organs. This in turn activates your immune system, including the release of chemicals that trigger inflammation - it's all part of your body's attempt to heal and maintain homeostasis.
If the stress is chronic, your immune system is on constant high alert, which can lead to chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and atherosclerosis.
This is a key consideration and a prime reason why it is really important to address your stress if you want to be optimally healthy.
In this case, researchers discovered that introverts, particularly aging women, have dramatically higher levels of the inflammatory chemical interleukin 6 (IL-6), which doubles their risk of death within five years.
Lead researcher Benjamin Chapman, PhD said:
"If this aspect of personality drives inflammation, dispositional energy and engagement with life may confer a survival advantage. But we don't know if low dispositional activity is causing inflammation, or inflammation is taking its toll on people by reducing these personality tendencies, so we must be cautious in our interpretation of this association."
Common sense would dictate it probably goes both ways.
Introverts vs. Extroverts, and Why Optimists Live Longer
The famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung defined introverts as people who are shy and tend to look inward rather than to others, whereas extroverts focus on the world around them, desire to be around others, and tend to think happy thoughts and be more actively engaged in life.
Previous research has also linked the more extroverted trait of having a sunnier disposition with health benefits and longevity. One such study concluded that optimists tend to be better insulated against stress and depression because they develop more effective coping skills and usually have a more supportive social network than pessimists.
The ability to form strong ties with others has been shown to be one factor in being better able to handle stress, which may be another explanation for why extroverts have a lower inflammatory response.
Since this could very well be a case of "Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" I think it does offer fuel to the idea that by changing your mind you can change your health.
Developing a more positive outlook and embracing life with greater zest can indeed have potent, positive consequences for your health.
Many are naturally shy, introverted people, but that doesn't mean you have to stay that way. "Fake it 'til you make it" is one way to go.
Others, like Brian Tracey, have made careers out of teaching you how to shed your shyness by building self-confidence. He's an absolute whiz, and his techniques have helped countless people improve the quality of their lives.
Become More Extroverted by... Exercising!?
While the researchers were hesitant to conclude that exercise is a definite answer to how you can become more extroverted, they did state that it can be a part of the solution for those who wish to become more outgoing and socially engaged.
Past studies have linked exercise and extroversion, and daily physical activity has also been linked to lower IL-6 levels.
Again, it's possible there's a positive feedback loop between a lowered inflammatory response and improved ability to handle stress, with more optimistic and outgoing personality traits. One feeds and generates the other.
"Beyond physical activity, some people seem to have this innate energy separate from exercise that makes them intrinsically involved in life," Dr. Chapman said.
It will be fascinating to investigate how we can increase this disposition toward engagement. Potentially, you might apply techniques developed to treat depression like 'pleasurable event scheduling' to patients with low dispositional energy, where you get people more involved in life by filling their time with things they enjoy as a therapy."
Exercise has definitely been shown to have a very powerful impact on your psyche, and is a very potent tool if you're feeling blue, no matter what the reason. It actually increases your levels of endorphins, or "feel good" hormones, in your brain. And, when you feel good, it's definitely easier to see the silver lining, and become more engaged with life and the people around you.