No offense to your personality, but have you ever thought that you it may have a personality that may be leading you towards disease? Is it possible that your reactions to stress, the nature of your moods, and your general mannerisms may be the cause of your headaches?
This concept has perplexed me for years. I’ve often wondered if there is a very specific quality or trait that each of us has which that allows us to become more prone to developing certain conditions.
Many of us have heard about the “type A” personality. Years ago, after graduating medical school, I was fascinated with all the articles that seemed to describe how this personality increased one’s risk for heart disease. Studies have shown that hostility and competitiveness, found in “type A” personalities, are associated with the development of many cardiac conditions . This led to questions regarding whether this personality type was genetic, if the behavior could be modified with lifestyle changes, and if improvements could be achieved through activities such as meditation and yoga. Specifically, various meditation practices have been developed in an effort to diminish this pattern of detrimental behavior tendencies .
Migraine, which is believed to affect 36 million Americans, is one of the most common neurological diseases known to mankind. This means that roughly 18% of U.S. women and 6% of men suffer with these attacks of pain regularly .
It is believed that American employers spend $13 billion per year due to missed workdays and impaired work function for their employees suffering with migraine pain . With so many needlessly suffering in pain, understanding what we can do to lessen the prevalence of pain is crucial.
Time for an Attitude Adjustment
What we need to do now is ask ourselves how much our personality does actually link to development of disease and what can we do about it. Instead of looking for answers such as modifying our diets or taking expensive medications, we truly need to first start looking inward to understand what it is in each of us that allows the migraine genetics to be expressed.
After spending over a decade treating migraine patients, I have found that certain personalities lend themselves to these attacks of pain. Is it possible that you have one of these personality traits?
Ask yourself the following 3 questions:
1. Are you perfectionistic?
As a recovering perfectionist, this trait was one that I realized I have had for years, but also noticed that many of my chronic migraine patients possessed this trait as well. I began to realize that being perfectionistic was linked to more difficult-to-treat migraines. In fact, studies have found that adolescents with chronic headaches are very likely to exhibit perfectionism as one of their key personality traits .
According to Ayurvedic medicine, which is believed to be the first system of healing—originating over 5,000 years ago—perfectionism is linked to excess Pitta, or the “Fire” element. Many of us are born with that predisposition and need to learn how to keep it in balance so that disease does not express . The key is to recognize that this may be part of your nature and proactively encourage a lifestyle and diet that reduces this Pitta nature.
Solution: If you find yourself with a personality type that is perfectionistic, or Pitta nature, then consider having lunch as your biggest meal and maintaining a 10 p.m. bedtime. Based on ancient literature, this can reduce your tendency to be perfectionistic and excessively hard-driving.
2. Do you schedule more for yourself than you’re able to handle?
With modern society, it seems that obligations to our family, friends, and career can be overwhelming. One thing you must ask is how many of these obligations or responsibilities are ones that you have chosen for yourself? Do you feel that you have the ability to say “no” and appropriately manage your to-do list?
After working with chronic-pain patients for many years, I have observed how many of them have a challenging time with scheduling life in a way that it is manageable for them to handle without feeling excessively stressed and guilty. Stress is that feeling that we want to avoid as it leads to a chronic sense of unease. Putting too many tasks on your plate eventually leads to excessive neuronal excitability and predisposes one to headaches. Stress is one of the key triggers for migraine, and having too many scheduled activities is one of the main instigators of the stress response.
In ancient Ayurveda, the belief is that if we feel overwhelmed with tasks, and are unable to finish them, we are at risk of having our Vata nature, or “Wind” element, get pushed out of balance . Having this element out of balance is one of the leading causes of headaches and anxiety.
Solution: Learn to say “no.” This is one of the most important skills you can learn to pacify your nature. Practice by following your intuition. If a friend asks you to join her for a cocktail, ask yourself “Do I really want to go out?” Would you rather relax at home in your jammies? If your gut feeling is that you need to stay in, just let your friend know you need a night to recharge and you will catch up with her next time. Soon this will be easy and your Vata nature will allow you to make wiser choices to keep yourself in a more balanced state.
3. Do you take time to nourish yourself or are you always pleasing and/or doing for others?
One of the most challenging things for many migraine patients to do is to make time for themselves. So many are focused on their children, their parents, or their careers that there is little energy reserve left for them. I am surprised when I ask a patient how many hours per week they spend nourishing themselves. Often, I have to repeat the question, as the concept of spending time nourishing oneself is not even on their radar. One of the most important skills a migraneur must learn is to develop a sense of self-care.
Solution: Spend 15 minutes daily doing something completely for yourself. This may include incorporating a daily oil massage, meditating, practicing deep breathing, and/or doing yoga. Over time, you can add more time but starting here is a fabulous way to gain a connection about your true self, and slowly the severity and intensity of the pain will start to diminish.
- Myrtek M. Meta-analyses of prospective studies on coronary heart disease, type A personality, and hostility. Int J Cardiol. 2001;79:245-251.
- How to meditate: for the type-A personality. Shake off the Grind. http://shakeoffthegrind.com/meditation/how-to-meditate-for-the-type-a-personality. Accessed May 16, 2015.
- American Migraine Foundation. 36 Million Migraine Campaign. http://www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/support-the-foundation/36-million-migraine-campaign. Accessed May 16, 2015.
- Hu XH, et al. Burden of migraine in the United States; disability and economic costs. Arch Int Med. 1999;159:813-818.
- Kowal A, Pritchard D. Psychological characteristics of children who suffer from headache: a research note. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1990;31:637-649.
- Gokani T. Pitta dosha. https://truptigokanimd.com/pitta-dosha/. Accessed May 16, 2015.
- Gokani T. Vata dosha. https://truptigokanimd.com/vata-dosha/. Accessed May 16, 2015.