Anger Hurts the Heart – And Learning New Anger Management Skills Reduces Risk
Chronic Anger and Stress Hurt The Heart
Dr. John Schinnerer
Recently, I received a moving comment from a father in my online anger management class…
‘Dear Dr. John:
I want to let you know that your online anger management class is extremely helpful. The tools you teach are working. My wife and kids have seen a big change in my outlook and mood. I want to be a better husband and father. I want to lead a healthier life. This past February, I had a significant heart attack and nearly died. Your class has tuaght me that most of my health issues were linked to anger. Prior to my heart attack, I had no idea that anger was creating my physical health issues! I was very good at blaming everyone else for my anger. Now, I am taking responsibilty for it. Thanks to you, I’ve realized that anger has a negative effect on my heart as well as on my relationships. Thank you for teaching me new ways of dealing with anger.’
I frequently emphasize how harmful chronic, long-term anger is on the heart. The same is true for long-term stress. Chronic stress and anger hurt the brain, the heart and the lungs. It is critical to learn tools to handle them better.
Chronic Anger and Heart Disease
In a recent study in the American Academy of Family Physicians, researchers concluded that men and women with high levels of chronic anger and stress are at much higher risk of heart disease. The study found men with high levels of chronic anger and irritation were over one and half times as likely to develop high blood pressure (i.e., at least 140 mmHg systolic or 90 mmHg diastolic). Individuals with chronic high intensity anger were 90% more likely to move from prehypertension to coronary heart disease when compared to people with low intensity anger.
Chronic Stress and Heart Disease
Both men and women with long-standing levels of stress had nearly 1.7 times the chance of developing heart disease as compared to those with low to moderate levels of stress. This means people with high levels of chronic stress are almost twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease. However, this is completely preventable – all that needs to be done is practice new ways of relating to stress. The authors suggest that quality stress management and anger management classes are very helpful for reducing stres and anger and ultimately, preventing the unnecessary progression to coronary heart disease.
Negative Emotions In General Are Related to Heart Disease
Three major negative emotional states – depression, anxiety and anger-hostility – were implicated in coronary heart disease in a study published in the Psychological Bulletin. These findings indicate that it is more of a general disposition towards negative emotions that may be more critical for the risk of heart disease than any one specific emotion. Prevention is key. Learning new ways to turn down the intensity and frequency of anger and stress is paramount.
A Predisposition to Negative Emotions
Work by Richard Davidson at University of Wisconsin, Madison has shown that a key brain circuit determines how quickly we recover from negative emotions. Some people naturally recover from them more quickly than others. For those that don’t recover as quickly, there is a natural overlap between the existence of depression, anger and anxiety. Rarely do I work with someone who is merely angry, or solely anxious, or only depressed. More often, such individuals have a hard time bouncing back from all the major negative emotions (e.g. anger, sadness and anxiety) due to the way in which this brain circuit works in them. While this is not their fault, it is their obligation to learn tools to manage these emotions for the good of their health and their loved ones.
Inevitably, people will become more aware that a predisposition towards negative emotions (e.g. hostility, anger, anxiety and depression) harms the heart and puts individuals at an increased risk of heart disease. By learning stress management tools, anger management tools, and tools to increase the frequency of positive emotions, this risk can be greatly reduced.