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For Your Heart: Stay Calm and Cool

Anger raises your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and heart attack. Learn what Johns Hopkins researchers recommend for managing this stressful emotion in healthier ways.

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Research Shows
Hot Tempers Inflame Heart Disease

At any age, reacting quickly and angrily to stressful situations can pose a risk to the heart. In one Johns Hopkins study, young men in particular who reacted to stress with anger had three times the normal risk of developing premature heart disease. These men were also five times more likely to have an early heart attack, even without any signs of heart disease. In the study, more than 1,300 men were tracked for more than three decades, beginning when they were in medical school. Hot tempers were found to predict heart disease long before other markers, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, researchers concluded.

Don’t get mad—stay healthy. People who feel angry often and fail to deal with it well are more likely to have heart problems, including heart attack, shows research from Johns Hopkins and other leading health institutions. The incidence of heart attack was almost five times higher in the two hours after an angry outburst, and the risk of stroke increased three-fold, found one 2014 study in European Heart Journal. The study showed that the more intense or frequent the blowups, the higher one’s heart risks.

What’s the connection? Anger results in the increased production of stress hormones called catecholamines. These hormones increase blood pressure and play a role in the development of artery-clogging plaque, which over the course of many years can lead to coronary artery disease. 

“But the harmful effects of anger can also occur quickly,” says Johns Hopkins expert Ilan Wittstein, M.D. “A sudden surge of catecholamines during fits of anger can cause heart attacks, lethal heart rhythms and rapid weakening of the heart muscle itself, a condition known as stress cardiomyopathy or broken heart syndrome that occurs primarily in women.” 

Here are some ideas recommended by Johns Hopkins for handling your anger in healthy ways.

Step back. Taking a brief time-out from a situation that makes you mad can help you think through it more logically. Count to 10 or walk away. This simple step can help you break a habit of hair-trigger reactions. 

Aim for assertive, not aggressive. You can stand up for yourself and make your feelings known without shouting, pointing fingers, making threats and shaking your fist. These exaggerated emotional responses aren’t necessarily constructive to making your point or getting your way. They just make the other person defensive—or mad too. 

Learn relaxation tools. Tactics like deep breathing can help you in the heat of the moment. Meditation, yoga and mindfulness training can also help you relax in general. 

Reduce your heart risk factors. If you’re prone to anger, it’s also a good idea to work on controlling broad risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol, Wittstein says. 

Talk to your doctor. In addition to managing the heart risk factors you’re capable of controlling, such as high cholesterol, if you have a history of heart disease and trouble managing anger, there’s some evidence that beta-blockers may reduce your risk of heart attack. Your doctor may also be able to point you toward anger-management classes or therapy to help you learn other constructive ways to react. 

Definitions

Risk factor: Anything that boosts your chances of getting a disease. For example, smoking is a risk factor for cancer, and obesity is a risk factor for diabetes.

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