The Anger-Damage Effect
How does anger do its damage and contribute to heart trouble? In this brief article, I explain the physiological and psychological mechanisms that are problematic ways of handling frustration and anger. I also present 8 helpful hints to better manage negative emotions and protect your physical and mental health.
First, here’s how the physiological mechanism of anger works, according to the nation’s top heart-brain research centers, such as the Cleveland Clinic: Emotions like anger and hostility stimulate the “fight or flight” response of your sympathetic nervous system, releasing the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. These chemicals significantly speed your heart rate and your respiration. Your blood pressure goes up, and your body is hit with a burst of fight-flight energy. That’s often what triggers someone to fly into a rage, to begin yelling and even throwing things. This heightened state of physiological activation is designed to mobilize you for real emergencies, but can become habitual. Chronically high levels of stress hormones cause extra wear on your cardiovascular system. Even the walls of your arteries can be damaged by the frequent anger response, because of the extra load of glucose and fat globules secreted into the blood stream.
The good news is that anger and hostility as a risk factor can be changed for the better, just as blood pressure or cholesterol can be modified. Of course, stress can’t be measured as easily as cholesterol, but you can learn to take responsibility for your emotional responses and modify them for the better. Here are a few tips to interrupt storms of explosive anger or relieve yourself of self-damaging, imploded anger.
- Recognize, as early as possible, when you’re beginning to feel angry.
- Pause, before saying something or doing something impulsively. The time-worn advice– “count to ten”– is still wise.
- Put the situation into perspective. Ask yourself if this issue will matter 5 years from now.
- Say to yourself: “If this is as big a deal tomorrow as it is now, I’ll deal with it then, when I’ve cooled off a bit.”
- Realize that, even though someone else’s behavior might have triggered your upset, blaming them for it won’t help you take responsibility for handling it well enough to regain your emotional balance.
- Understand that acting angry is not the way to show that you really care about something or someone.
- You may understand the nature of your problems with anger, but if you can’t put your insight into practice, it’s time to consult with an experienced therapist. Even a brief investment in counseling can produce remarkable results.
- Finally, remember to take this to heart: a change of heart comes from a change of mind about how you handle frustrating situations.
In summary, stressful reactions such as anger, anxiety, guilt, or mood instability can add up to increased risk for all kinds of medical problems, including heart trouble. Taking care of your emotional health will pay off with big dividends in maintaining your physical health and well-being.