Let’s be real: everyone gets angry at one time or another. It’s been said that women get more mad at people, while men get more angry at things. You may get angry at your spouse, your job, your kids, that electronic device that won’t work or maybe at a missed opportunity.
Sometimes anger can be good for you if it’s addressed quickly and expressed in a healthy way. In fact, anger may help some people think more rationally, create a plan or work harder. However, the majority of us have unhealthy episodes of anger.
Emotions such as anger and hostility ramp up your “fight or flight” response. When that happens, stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, speed up your heart rate and breathing.
If you hold in anger for long periods of time, turn it inward, or explode in rage, it can wreak havoc on your body, inside and out. Here are just a few ways below.
1. Heart Damage
Anger puts your heart at great risk. Most physically damaging is anger’s effect on your cardiac health. “In the two hours after an angry outburst, the chance of having a heart attack doubles,” says Chris Aiken, MD, an instructor in clinical psychiatry at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
And don’t think holding in your anger helps–it can actually be worse for you. “Repressed anger — where you express it indirectly or go to great lengths to control it, is associated with heart disease,” says Dr. Aiken. In fact, one study found that people with anger proneness as a personality trait were at twice the risk of coronary disease than their less angry peers.
Protect your heart by identifying and addressing your feelings before you lose control. Speak up directly to the person you are angry with and deal with the frustration in a problem-solving manner.
Ever been so frustrated you think you’re going to explode? There’s a reason for that. Anger ups your stroke risk. If you’re prone to almost bursting a blood vessel when you get angry, beware. One study found there was a three times higher risk of having a stroke from a blood clot to the brain or bleeding within the brain during the two hours after an angry outburst. For people with an aneurysm in one of the brain’s arteries, there was a six times higher risk of rupturing this aneurysm following an angry outburst.
But you can learn to control those angry explosions. First identify what your triggers, and then figure out how to change your response. Instead of losing your temper, many people take time to either physically remove themselves from that environment (either going into another room) or counting backward. Others try deep breathing. Use assertive communication skills.
3. Immune System Breakdown
Being sick and tired makes you sick and tired. Anger actually weakens your immune system. If you’re mad all the time, you just might find yourself feeling sick more often. In one study, Harvard University scientists found that in healthy people, simply recalling an angry experience from their past caused a six-hour dip in levels of the antibody immunoglobulin A, the cells’ first line of defense against infection.
If you’re someone who’s habitually angry, protect your immune system by 1.) getting some rest. People who are angry often are associated with those who don’t get a fulfilling night sleep. And 2.) use coping strategies. “Assertive communication, effective problem solving, using humor, or restructuring your thoughts are good ways to turn that frown upside down.
4. Untimely Death
Anger can shorten your life. Is it really true that happy people live longer? “Stress is very tightly linked to general health. If you’re stressed and angry, you’ll shorten your lifespan,” says Fristad. A University of Michigan study was done over a 17-year period found that couples who hold in their anger have a shorter life span than those who readily say when they’re mad.
If you’re not someone who’s comfortable showing negative emotions, then work with a therapist or practice on your own to be more expressive.
Some ways that can help with anger are to ask yourself some questions:
1. “Will this really matter one year from now?”
2. “Have I tried getting my point across other ways first?”
3. “Why am I always feeling this way? Is it me?”
4. “Who can I talk to about this?”
And just in case you’re still fuming, here are a few ways to ice down that fiery temper.
START THE COUNT DOWN IMMEDIATELY
Yes, you’ve heard it before and it sounds too easy to be effective but counting to ten can help give you time to get your thoughts in order and your emotions back in check. Resist the urge to simply number the righteous reasons for your anger. Concentrate on counting, giving a slight pause between each. If you are a praying person you may give yourself a ten-word emergency prayer instead of using the numbers. Example: Lord (pause) help (pause) me (pause) to (pause) take (pause) control (pause) of (pause) myself (pause) right (pause) now.
REFLECT BEFORE YOU REACT
There are almost always negative consequences when we react in anger. Are you sure you are angry at the right things or the right people? Re-trace your anger to ensure that you are making the most of your time. Maybe your anger is showing you that something needs to be done or you need to just relax. Make it a practice to delay any response until you’re sure it’s not just an angry reaction.
STOP NURSING YOUR ANGER
You’ve been offended or insulted, now you’re running the scene over and over in your mind. Stop wallowing in negative emotions. Change the conversation in your head by refocusing. Begin replacing angry thoughts with thoughts that pull you back into the present moment, i.e. This breeze feels marvelous. The sky is a beautiful blue today.
INJECT HUMOR INTO THE SITUATION
Imagine yourself describing the situation in a humorous way. As many talented stand-up comics have demonstrated, humor can take the sting out of almost any situation. Even the right description of childbirth can bring a laugh when told from a funny angle.
WORK IT OUT
Nothing beats getting your body in motion to help evaporate anger. Take a brisk walk, swim some laps, take a Zumba class, go on a bike ride, take a long walk. Get moving and send that anger packing.
KNOW WHEN TO SEEK HELP
Asking for help is the wise decision to assume responsibility and take control of your life, not a sign of weakness, If you find your temper constantly exploding out of control, you’re getting into trouble with the law or physically hurting others, you probably need more intensive help. Find a good therapist or an anger management class and get to work on kicking that anger habit for good.
Important Notice: This article was originally published in www.blackdoctor.org by Gemma Greene, a blackdoctor.org staff writer, where all credits are due.