Anger is a common emotion that can serve a useful purpose to respond to challenging situations. But if you frequently “blow your top,” you could be harming your heart.
“Anger causes a flood of adrenaline, which is a stress hormone that signals your body to prepare for possibly frightening situations. It will raise blood pressure, heart rate and breathing, and can also make blood more likely to clot,” said Jeremy Warner, DO, from Samaritan Cardiology - Corvallis. “All of this can contribute to the weakening of artery walls and can raise the risk for heart disease.”
While there has been some research to show that in the two hours after an angry outburst, a person has a somewhat higher risk of angina, heart attack, stroke, or a risky heart rhythm, the research has been inconclusive.
“The best ways to prevent heart disease continue to be by controlling risk factors, such as to stop smoking, to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, to maintain a healthy weight, to get regular exercise and to control diabetes,” said Dr. Warner. “However, our emotions do play a role in overall health, so paying attention to our stress levels and how we respond can also be important.”
Studies have shown that chronic stress, which can include strong emotions such as anger, anxiety and depression, can negatively impact the heart.
“If we are on high-alert for an extended period of time, it will take its toll on the body,” said Dr. Warner. “Chronic stress has been shown to increase inflammation in the body and raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can contribute to cardiovascular disease.”
Stressful emotions like anger can also prompt us to engage in negative behaviors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, overeating, and physical inactivity.
“Rather than coping with extra stress by engaging in behaviors that are harmful to the heart, it would be better to learn constructive ways to express anger and to minimize stress,” said Dr. Warner.
Anger management classes and techniques can offer proven ways to help individuals learn to react differently to stressful situations.
Try some of these techniques from the American Psychological Association:
Detach from the intensity of the moment by counting to ten or taking a brief walk out of the room to give yourself a break. Take several slow, deep breaths. Try repeating a mantra to yourself over and over, something like, “Relax, you’ve got this” or “Everything will be okay.”
Avoid “All or Nothing” Thinking
In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to think that the worst is happening. Usually, though, it’s not. Instead of thinking, “it’s horrible, everything is ruined,” realize that, “it’s frustrating, but not the end of the world.” Ask yourself if this will matter next year, or even next week.
Slow Down Your Response
Instead of jumping to conclusions and saying the first thing that pops into your mind, slow down. First conclusions can be inaccurate, so instead of responding to your first thought, think carefully about what you want to say. If you need to take a break to get your thoughts in order, do so. Consider responding tomorrow, or after a workout, which will give your emotions time to cool off.
Get Help, If You Need It
Taking a class in anger management or talking with a mental health professional can help you learn and practice techniques to manage anger, so that you feel more in control of your reactions.
“Heart disease is still the number one killer of both men and women in the US, so managing our risk factors is critical. Pay attention to your health, both the physical factors and the emotional ones. Everything we do to improve our health makes a positive difference,” said Dr. Warner.
If you feel you could use help with managing your anger, talk with your primary care provider for resources or for a referral to a mental health professional.
Visit our health library for a variety of heart health topics.
If you have concerns about your heart, contact your primary care provider for a referral to a Samaritan Cardiology location in the valley or on the coast. Dr. Warner can be reached at Samaritan Cardiology – Corvallis at 541-768-5205.