Anger hurts your health

Chronically losing your cool and harboring hostility can wreak havoc on your short- and long-term health. Anger management techniques can help temper your temper to ward off a ticking time bomb that may be sabotaging your relationships, career and well-being. Here’s how anger is damaging your life and effective stress-reducing ways to get rid of it.

Angry Woman

Anger Harms Your Health

No way around it, anger is a psychological and physiological process. Evidence suggests that when people frequently and inappropriately express anger it negatively impacts their health. Being passive, self-silencing and tending to repress, frequently and explosively letting anger rip, or seething with hidden rage are forms of hostile emotion that can manifest in a variety of symptoms and illnesses. Some people have frequent headaches, high blood pressure, sleep or digestive problems – or all of the above.

Hostility hurts your heart

Being constantly in a tizzy, angry, competitive and aggressive is also particularly harmful to your heart. Unresolved anger increases heart disease risk by as much as five times, and the more hostility you have, the more you’re prone to heart disease. In a 2009 research review in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on the effect of anger on heart disease, researchers found that anger and hostility significantly increases coronary heart disease risk in healthy individuals. And in patients with an existing heart condition? Anger and hostility promotes a poor prognosis. Researchers also found that while anger affects heart health in both men and women, the associated risk is higher for men.

Being cranky increases the risk of cancer

You’ve heard that stress is akin to cancer, and it is more true than you think. People who are chronically angry, hostile and irritable types -- those with the classic "Type A" personality --  may get an A+ in ambition, determination and focus, but they are putting an unhealthy strain on their organs by overactivating their sympathetic nervous system (SSN), which can lead to a depressed immune system and lowered ability to fight cancer. Here’s why.

The SSN activates when someone is feeling angry or hostile, flooding the body with stress hormones, primarily adrenaline and noradrenaline. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) then kicks in to neutralize the stress hormones to calm down the body. A healthy PNS response allows the heart and organs to work less hard. However, Type A’s have a slower PNS than laid back Type B personalities. Type A personalities also have a weaker immune system. The immune system plays a key role in preventing cancer by producing “natural killer cells” that attack tumor cells.

Constructive anger is a good thing

Though anger is damaging to health, experts say anger isn’t all bad. Anger has earned a bad rap partly because it’s often linked to violence, although it actually leads to aggressive acts only about 10 percent of the time, according to Howard Kassinove, PhD, co-author with R. Chip Tafrate, PhD, of Anger Management: The Complete Treatment Guidebook for Practice.

Expressing constructive rather than destructive anger is actually beneficial. Constructive anger essentially means calmly discussing angry feelings while working towards a solution. Several factors differentiate constructive from destructive anger, explains psychologists who study and treat everyday anger. "If the anger is justified and the response is appropriate, usually the misunderstanding is corrected," notes James Averill a University of Massachusetts Amherst psychologist , “The question is not, 'Should I express anger or should I suppress it?' It is, 'What can we do to solve the problem?'" he explains.

Anger can lead to understanding

Everyday episodes of anger, rather than more dramatic ones, often yield positive results, particularly in a domestic setting. Researchers in a 2002 published in Journal of Clinical Psychology found that 40 percent of their test subjects reported positive long-term effects after an angry episode. Similarly, a 1997 study published in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality found nearly a third of the subjects found that their anger episode helped them see their own faults.

"People who are targets of anger in these studies will say things like, 'I really understand the other person much better now--I guess I wasn't listening before,'" comments Kassinove. "While assertive expression is always preferable to angry expression, anger may serve an important alerting function that leads to deeper understanding of the other person and the problem."

8 Anger Management Tips

There are numerous methods to manage anger, yet the basics boil down to recognizing your anger triggers, learning how to sense when anger is approaching, and finding healthy tools to extinguish or express anger. If you have chronic feelings of stress-fueled anger, try these expert recommended anger management tools.

1. Avoid one-sided outbursts. Calmly and clearly express your anger to the target, allow the person to react and work towards a solution or new understanding.

2. Consider Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT is an alternative psychotherapy. A therapist trained in EFT clears the roots of anger from your energy system by tapping acupuncture points as you focus on a specific traumatic memory in order to alleviate a psychological problem.

3. Get anger management counseling. Counseling can help identify triggers, become aware of signs you're becoming angry and teach you how to respond to your frustrations in a healthy manner. Anger management is conducted by a licensed mental health counselor or psychologist and can be one-on-one, with your partner or other family members. This counseling also offers an opportunity to explore other feelings you may have going on, such as sadness due to depression.

4. Take an anger management class. Facilitators take partners, families or groups of individuals through the same key anger management steps as a counselor. Classes also offer the benefit of group dynamics, a setting that promotes empathy among others and insights.

Well-known health and wellness expert Dr Oz recommends the following four anger management tips.

5. Do the opposite. Rather than blow your top, try the opposite. Don’t withdraw, rather develop empathy. Try to think about what the other person might be feeling, thinking, going through in their life that contributed to their behavior. From this place of “walking in their shoes,” you may quickly diffuse the rage you were just about to ignite.

6. Find your pattern. Track your feelings and thoughts throughout the day to identify a pattern in the core belief that triggers your anger.

7. Do push-ups. Anger creates a physiological as well as psychological response. Instead of choosing to bottle it up and “stay calm,” act out your feelings of threat and anger by letting it rip...but do it through exercise.

8. Choose smart words. Avoid phrases that are absolutes such as “you never" or "you always.” They alienate and humiliate people who might be willing to work with you on a solution. Avoid self-blame with words that create unrealistic expectations. Avoid telling yourself “woulds, coulds, and shoulds.”

Learning how to control chronic anger and express emotions in a constructive manner will not only make life feel better, mend relationships and clear up misunderstandings, anger management can have a dramatic impact on your long term health and longevity.


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