Body & Fitness

Calm down! Being angry makes you ill

Getting angry is a natural human reaction and, for most of us, the occasional outburst may help to release pent-up stress.

Just what happens to the body when it is continuously subjected to the emotional upheaval that accompanies day-to-day hostility and rage?

Scientific evidence suggests frequent angry outbursts may increase the long-term risk of everything from heart attacks and strokes to poor healing and a weakened immune system.

Last week researchers at the University of Granada in Spain found ‘looking back in anger’ at past mistakes could make us less able to withstand pain.

They quizzed 50 men and women on their feelings about past events, mistakes made and missed opportunities.

The results, reported in the medical journal PLoS One, showed those who dwelt on the bad things in life were more likely to be sensitive to pain than those who lived life one day at a time.

One possible explanation is that negative moods disrupt the circuitry of the brain.

Certainly, the damaging effects of anger on the body are increasingly well documented. When we lose our temper, our heart rate increases, blood pressure rises and blood flow to the muscles is increased as part of the ‘fight or flight’s response that prepares us to either engage in combat or flee.

At the same time, glucose levels rise to give muscles the energy they need for action and the adrenal glands pump out more of the hormone adrenaline. This enlarges the pupil of the eye for sharper vision and expands the lungs so they can gulp in the extra oxygen they may need.

‘People often feel very energetic when they get angry,’ explains Annie Hinchliff, a chartered psychologist working in anger management. ‘Their heart beats faster, their vision becomes sharper and their hearing becomes quite acute.’

All this is an entirely normal response and once the mood has calmed, these functions all return to normal, without any long-term health consequences.

The risks to health  increase when the body is exposed to these ‘emergency’ responses regularly.

It’s thought to cause wear and tear on the cardiovascular system.

The heart is the organ most at risk in someone with an ‘angry’ personality. And the greatest danger is in those who bottle up feelings rather than vent their anger.

Swedish scientists looked at 2,755 male employees in Stockholm and found those who did not openly express their anger if they were unfairly treated at work doubled their risk of a heart attack. The men were asked if they dealt with things head-on or let things pass without saying anything.

Those who walked away from conflict without saying anything had double the risk of a heart attack compared to men who challenged authority.

Researchers blamed repeated increases in blood pressure which eventually damaged the cardiovascular system.

As Julian Halcox, professor of cardiology at Cardiff University explains: ‘The evidence is inconclusive, but some studies suggest prolonged anger and hostility increases stress on the cardio- vascular system. It’s good to get things off your chest, and we’re not talking about people who just get angry from time to time.

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