Anger extremes can be harmful
Anger is a natural emotion, but frequently getting angry can have serious health implications. The more intense or prolonged your bouts with anger, the more adversely they affect the heart.
Studies indicate that anger triggers many physiological changes in your body such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, tightening of blood vessels, and increased clotting.
While moderate anger isn’t a cause for concern, intense or explosive anger needs to be addressed. In fact, a rational expression of anger is deemed healthy. Tending toward either extreme — lashing out in anger or suppressing rage for a prolonged period — could lead to complications.
Chronic anger affects everyone equally — it doesn’t differentiate between genders. Studies indicate that anger and heart disease have a connection, although they aren’t directly linked.
How anger hurts your heart
Intense emotions such as anger activate a powerful adrenaline response known as "fight or flight." This causes your muscles to contract and releases stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) into your system, which in turn causes your blood vessels to tighten and increases your blood pressure.
These reactions manifest in your body as a state of hyperawareness and a rapid switch to your basic instincts of combat or survival.
While all this is happening in your body, your heart rate and breathing spike and lead to a burst of energy. Physiologically, your body is preparing you to either run to save your life or fight your enemy.
Getting angry activates several neurochemicals that were originally intended to help you face a crisis.
While these physiological responses are meant to prepare you for emergencies, repeated activation of these cycles could be severely detrimental.
To give an example of how anger hurts your heart, the release of excessive amounts of stress hormones may hasten the process of atherosclerosis — the thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque in the inner lining of an artery.
Research has shown that people with good health who tend to experience frequent bouts of anger are at a higher risk of heart disease than those who are calmer.
How to control your anger
Recognizing and accepting your tendency to get angry is probably the first and most important step. If you find you’re often angry, it’s never too late to address it — there are many effective ways to control anger.
Intense physical exercise
Meditation is one of the most effective ways to overcome anger. Growing evidence shows that as little as 15 minutes of meditation each day can have many positive effects on your stress and anxiety levels in addition to your heart.
Practicing meditation may also help reduce the amount of deep sleep your body needs, although more research is needed.
Regular meditation weakens the neural connection in your brain that can scare you and give a feeling of being under attack. Simultaneously, it reinforces the connection between the parts of your brain known for reasoning and your bodily sensation and fear centers.
Accept people and circumstances
It’s important to know that sometimes people and circumstances aren’t in your control. Consistently brooding over things that are out of your control isn’t productive.
This doesn’t mean you should passively accept everything, but you can show a willingness to understand that you’ll face some good days and some not-so-good days. Only when you accept circumstances can you think rationally about a solution. Non-acceptance usually leads to a reaction or outburst.
What else can you do?
You can implement these immediate stress-busters to overcome the anger welling up inside you:
- Walk away from the situation.
- Understand the other person’s perspective.
- Communicate your dissatisfaction instead of bottling it up.
- Avoid blaming others.
- Consider whether the issue is worth all the fuss.
- Revisit the situation with a calm mind.
If you still feel that your emotions get the better of you, you may consider counseling. Ask your doctor to refer you to a qualified therapist.
American Heart Journal: "Anger Expression and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: Evidence From the Nova Scotia Health Survey."
American Psychological Association: "Strategies for controlling your anger: Keeping anger in check,” “What are the benefits of mindfulness."
Behavioral and Brain Functions: "Meditation acutely improves psychomotor vigilance, and may decrease sleep need."
Frontiers in Psychology: "Editorial: Neurotransmitters and Emotions."
The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: "Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity."
Journal of International Medical Research: "Chronic stress: a critical risk factor for atherosclerosis."
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