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Anger Management

Health Costs Of Anger

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

Anger is both a physiological (body) and psychological (mind) process. Because of this, anger can have a negative impact on your physical and your emotional health. This is particularly true of the relationship between anger and heart disease.

Heart Disease and High Blood Pressure

heart and bodyThere is a direct connection between being constantly angry, competitive, and aggressive, and early heart disease. For example, recent research suggests that men who have poor anger management skills are more likely to suffer a heart attack before age 55 than their more emotionally controlled peers. A separate study indicated that older male subject's hostility ratings (how hostile and irritable they tend to act towards others) predicted heart disease more accurately than other known risk factors including cholesterol, alcohol intake, cigarette smoking and being overweight.

High blood pressure (Hypertension), and blood pressure reactivity are also related to the expression of anger and hostility. In a research study that examined the effect of harassment and distraction on men trying to perform a mental test, only highly hostile men showed increases in blood pressure and blood flow to the muscles. Men with low scores on a hostility rating scale did not show these physiological changes. The hostile men also reported more lingering anger and irritation than did the less hostile men. In a second study, highly hostile men produced greater concentrations of stress hormones than less hostile men. The evidence of these and similar studies suggests that there is a strong link between anger and proneness to physiological hyperactivity. Angry people's tendency to easily become aroused keeps them stressed for prolonged periods, and causes significant and cumulative damage to their bodies.

The evidence from numerous studies is clear: constant chronic anger, hostility, and aggression raise your risk of developing various deadly forms of heart disease by as much as five times the normal rate. The more hostility you tend to express, the more prone to heart disease you are likely to be. If you find that you immediately get angry when you have to wait in traffic or when confronted with a long line at the grocery checkout, or if you find yourself constantly yelling at your loved ones, you may be slowly killing yourself.

The Type A Personality

Chronically angry, hostile and irritable people have been described as having "Type A" personalities. People with more laid back personalities are correspondingly described as having "Type B" personalities. These categories were invented in the late 1950s by Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman as means of separating patients likely to develop heart disease from those who were not. Type A personalities are more likely to display aggressive and competitive personality traits and to achieve great professional success. Type B personalities have a more easygoing approach toward life. The driven Type A personalities are more likely than the type B personalities to develop serious heart disease. Specifically, common traits of Type A personalities, such as being quick to anger, and demonstrating explosive reactivity, competitiveness, impatience, irritability, and hostility strongly indicate a high risk for heart disease.

On the positive side, Type A personalities are often very driven and determined to succeed. They will allow nothing to stand in their way when striving to reach their goals. Because of their focus, however, people with Type A personalities are always in a hurry; they have no patience for people around them, and often fail to give others their full attention because they are busy doing something else. Type A personalities also tend to be critical and judgmental people, often focusing on the weaknesses of others - lateness, poor driving skills, indifference, etc. They are likely to become angry and hostile towards those people they deem incompetent or in the way.

Physiologically, Type A men, especially those with high hostility levels, show weaker parasympathetic nervous system response than more laid-back Type B men. The parasympathetic nervous system (or PNS) is a part of the body's nervous system that functions to calm people down. The opposite of the parasympathetic nervous system is the sympathetic nervous system (or SNS), which causes arousal, and which is heavily invoked in anger responding. The sympathetic nervous system floods the body with stress hormones (primarily adrenaline and noradrenaline) which cause arousal. The parasympathetic nervous system counters this arousal by releasing another hormone, acetylcholine which neutralizes the stress hormones and allows the body to calm down and relax. Healthy parasympathetic nervous system responding causes the heart and organs to work less hard and thus reduces strain on the body's organs. Because Type A mens' parasympathetic nervous system response is relatively weak, they are unable to calm down as effectively as are Type B men, and they suffer bodily damage because of it.

Even the immune system seems to be weaker for people with Type A personalities. The immune system plays an important role in helping keep us cancer free (e.g., by producing "natural killer cells", which can kill tumor cells that form in the body). For illustration, one study showed that high-hostility scoring students (e.g., Type A students) had fewer natural killer cells present during their during high-stress exam periods than did low-hostility scoring (Type B) students.

In summary, hostile Type A people are wired differently than more mellow Type B people. Type A people spend more time under the influence of an aroused nervous system than Type B people. Repeated arousal of heart rate and blood pressure and many other factors involved in the Type A arousal response cause cumulative and non-repairable damage to the body's organs and tissues. This difference in stress exposure likely accounts for the increased early death rates associated with the aggressive Type A personality.

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