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How anger hurts your heart

Anger is a normal human emotion and often a justified response to a frustrating person or situation, but too much of it can damage your heart. Frequent anger and maladaptive anger management can be a big threat to your cardiovascular health. The more intense or prolonged your anger, the worse the adverse effects on the heart.

“Studies show there may be a link between patients with increased anger and a higher risk of developing premature coronary heart disease and suffering coronary events,” says Druenell Linton, M.D., a cardiologist at Piedmont. “The link is likely both direct, via damage of the vessel wall, and indirect, as these patients often have more risk factors like smoking, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia.”

Your body on anger

The moment you become angry, your body activates a powerful adrenaline response known as "fight-or-flight." Humans evolved this response long ago as a survival mechanism (to, for example, fend off a lion attack). The fight-or-flight response increases the body's heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure, and causes the muscles to contract.

This manifests in our bodies as a state of hyperawareness, increased strength and an instantaneous switch to our instinctual mode of combat, escape or "survival."

Why is anger harmful to the heart?

A person with a chronically angry personality activates this kind of response repeatedly. Frequent spikes in blood pressure and heart rate directly compromise heart health.

“People may experience stress-induced chest pain, elevated heart rate and higher blood pressure,” says Dr. Linton.

Many studies have shown anger increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke, even in otherwise young and healthy people.

Anger management to protect your heart

People with intense and prolonged anger, or unsettling physical responses to anger, should first be seen by a preventive cardiologist to check for imminent danger.

“An anger management program, counseling and avoidance of stressors can help,” says Dr. Linton. “Anger management techniques typically include components of muscular relaxation, a quiet environment, passive attitude and deep breathing.”

Practicing meditation and other relaxation techniques can help you better handle anger in the long run, but if you need a strategy to combat anger's negative effects in the moment, try high-intensity exercise. A short power walk, burpees and jumping jacks are all ways to help diffuse the energy and lessen the effect of anger on your heart.

Check out more ways to protect your heart health.

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