Maybe you know someone who loses their temper over every little thing. Even the simplest thing that goes wrong can cause them to fly into a rage of epic proportions. (Maybe you’re that person…)
Uncontrolled anger can lead to arguments, physical fights, violence, and even self-harm.
Science has at last proven what ancient wisdom has said all along, that if you get angry often you could literally break your heart.
How Anger Hurts Your Heart
Anger and your heart health are tied to together and uncontrolled anger can take years off your life. Like a Trojan Horse of the cardiovascular system, anger’s effects are often hidden until your body’s fight or flight response is unleashed, and then it attacks. It can create major cardiovascular problems and even lead to a heart attack or stroke.
When you get angry, your adrenal glands flood your body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline creates a series of metabolic changes in the body that cause an immediate increase in blood sugar levels, raise your heart rate, constrict blood vessels, and dilate airways.
In response to the increased stress, your body also releases cortisol to help the body respond appropriately. These changes let you either fight a raging wildebeest or run for the hills.
Thankfully, today we don’t have to battle wild beasts for survival, but our body doesn’t know that. That’s why the same metabolic changes occur when someone takes our parking space on Black Thursday or our kid’s soccer coach throws them out of the game.
Anger can also actually break your heart. A study from Harvard Medical School on 1305 men uncovered that the angriest men were three times more likely to develop heart disease than the calmer participants were.
In fact, researchers at John Hopkins School of Medicine tracked 1,055 medical students over 36 years and found that hotheads were six times more likely to suffer heart attacks by age 55, and three times more likely to develop heart or blood vessel disease.
What about short outbursts of anger, are they just as dangerous? Short answer? Yes. Your best option, as the British Government recommended during World War II, is to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
In a Harvard Medical School study in 2006 of 1,623 patients, which included 501 women, intense angry outbursts more than doubled their risk of a heart attack if the emotional outburst occurred within the two hours prior to the heart attack.
Unfortunately when anger is combined with common heath problems, it can cause even more devastating effects. If you have arterial plaque, a sharp outburst of anger could cause the plaque to rupture and create fatal blood clots.
Anger can also affect your ability to heal normally after surgery and triple healing time.
Research analyzed from nine studies from the European Heart Journal found that an uncontrolled anger created five times the risk of a heart attack and stroke risk was nearly four times higher.
Five Positive Ways to Deal with Anger
While anger, if channeled appropriately, can help us make positive changes, uncontrolled anger and your heart are a dangerous combination. Suppressing anger isn’t any better for your health, as it often waits and builds, causing worse bodily damage when it finally does emerge.
Find a way to identify the source of your anger and try any combination of these five ways to deal with rage:
- Don’t stew in silence – Talk about your feelings with a trusted loved one or friend, being sure to explain your point of view.
- Leave the situation – if possible take a walk to think things through. Stay safe and don’t drive while angry. You may need only a couple of minutes away to assess the situation, but be sure to give yourself a good amount of time to think about what upset you and what may be the best way to handle the situation.
- Exercise – we know it might not be the first anger management technique that comes to mind, but put on a yoga dvd, attend an exercise class, try weightlifting, cardio kickboxing, or Pilates to relieve and work off the stress of anger. Benefit – you may actually increase heart health!
- Meditate – rest your hands on your knees and visualize the stress being peeled away from each part of your body, just as you would peel an orange. Start with head and work your way down to your toes. Keep your thoughts relaxed and breathe in and out deeply.
- Tell a joke – Humor can diffuse a heated situation. Be careful to stay away from sarcasm, that may often intensify the problem and could possibly make it worse.
Remember: your mind affects your heart. When you are on the verge of losing your temper, ask yourself. “Is this argument really worth having a heart attack?”