It doesn’t matter whether you vent it, bottle it, or nurture it, it seems that anger and ill-temper are far worse for you than they are for those unlucky enough to cross your path when you’re in the grip of it. From mild irritation to intense fury, the entire spectrum of anger brings with it exceedingly negative effects not only on your relationships with others, but on your physical health. And interestingly, men, women and children are all equally at risk.
The effects on your health
Since the 1960s there have been many studies linking anger to heart problems and now, where past studies focused mainly on men, a new study published in the Woman’s Journal of Health shows that women are no less at risk from anger-induced health complaints than are men. However, women may not present with the same risk profiles as do men.
Another study from the University of Washington School of Nursing found that wives specifically had a greater association between anger and symptoms of depression, while men tended to instead experience an association between anger and health problems.
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And another study, led by Karen A. Matthews, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, found that young people with the highest levels of anger and hostility were also more likely to become overweight or to develop insulin resistance (a precursor to type 2 diabetes), high blood pressure, or unhealthy cholesterol profiles in the three years following the study. These health problems are collectively referred to as metabolic syndrome and can lead to adult cardiovascular disease.
There have even been studies that show that anger has a direct effect on even the healing rate of bodily wounds: researchers from Ohio State University Researchers gave blisters to 98 participants and found that, after 8 days, those who had less control over their anger also tended to be slower healers.
As anyone who has ever ‘seen red’ when being cut off in traffic knows, anger can lead to an increased heart rate, body temperature changes (flushing or sweating), fists clenching, teeth grinding, prickly sensations or numbness and muscular tensions, as well as a rise in blood pressure that may lead to chest pains, severe headaches or migraines, indigestion, and ulcers. This is because the emotion of anger triggers chemicals like adrenaline and noradrenaline to surge through your system, which can cause a weakened heart, stiffer arteries, liver and kidney damage, and high cholesterol.
The link is by now so well established that some scientists say that chronic anger may be more dangerous than smoking and obesity as a factor that will contribute to early death.
American metabolic cardiologist Dr Steven T. Sinatra, M.D., author of a dozen books, including Reverse Heart Disease Now (Wiley), and Lower Your Blood Pressure in Eight Weeks (Ballantine), says, ‘Anger is like the Achilles heel of the cardiovascular system, a trigger for serious problems, including a heart attack. Your blood vessels constrict and your blood pressure rises. The electrical currents to your heart become unstable. If you have arterial plaque, anger is like throwing a match into a can of gasoline. The plaque can rupture and the resulting clots kill you. Anger can also affect your ability to heal normally after surgery.’
This story originally appeared in Heart magazine, for the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA