Does Anger Hurt Your Body?

Can having an angry personality or an anxious soul increase your risk of a heart attack?

Very likely, research over the last three decades has found. And recent evidence from Australia suggests that acute, or severe, episodes of anger may be especially harmful. So is acute anxiety.

Anger and Anxiety Can Kill You.

Yes, road rage can kill you. Increased risk of a heart attack following intense episodes of anger or anxiety is most likely due to increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased tightening of blood vessels, and/or increased blood clotting.

Does Anger Hurt Your Body?

Yes, says new science.

Researchers at the University of Sydney investigated the link between severe emotional triggers and high risk of severe cardiovascular events.

They interviewed 313 heart attack patients and asked them to use a 7-point scale to rate their levels of anger over the 48 hours before they suffered their heart attacks.

Anger was measured by use of an Anger Chart that defined levels of anger as follows:

  1.  Calm.
  2.  Busy, but not hassled.
  3.  Mildly Angry, irritated and hassled, but it does not show.
  4.  Moderately Angry, so hassled it shows in your voice.
  5.  Very Angry, body tense, maybe fists clenched, ready to burst.
  6.  Furious, forced to show it physically, almost out of control.
  7.  Enraged, out of control, throwing objects, hurting yourself or others.

The participants also reported their usual yearly frequency of anger for each of these levels.

Intense Anger Increased Heart Attack Risk 8-Fold

The study found that the risk of suffering a heart attack is 8.5 times greater in the 2 hours immediately after an outburst of intense anger compared to a patient’s usual yearly frequency of anger.

Participants in the study with this dramatically increased heart attack risk described experiencing anger in the 2 hours before their heart attack that scored 5 or higher on the scale of 1 to 7.

Intense Anxiety Increased Heart Attack Risk 9-Fold

In a university news release published in conjunction with the study, lead author Dr. Thomas Buckley stated that the research also revealed that “high levels of anxiety were associated with a 9.5-fold increased risk of triggering a heart attack in the 2 hours after the anxiety episode.”

The scientists’ findings on the association between acute anxiety and a heart attack were limited to a comparison of the mean anxiety score within 2 hours versus the same 2-hour window one day prior to the heart attack, not the entire year previous, as with the anger assessment.

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“However, the significantly higher anxiety score within 2 hours supports prior data linking acute anxiety to increased MI [myocardial infarction, or heart attack] risk,” pointed out Dr. Buckley.

Anger Triggers

The episodes of intense anger were precipitated by arguments with family members or with other people, or by conflicts and frustrations at work, or while driving. (Yes, road rage can kill you.)

Does Anger Hurt Your Body? | The Physiological Fall-Out

According to Dr. Buckley, “Increased risk following intense anger or anxiety is most likely due to increased heart rate, blood pressure, tightening of blood vessels and increased clotting, all associated with triggering heart attacks.”

Anger and Anxiety Management

Dr. Geoffrey Tofler, the study’s senior author, stressed that this research calls for preventive strategies, including “stress reduction training to reduce the frequency and intensity of episodes of anger, or avoiding activities that usually prompt such intense reactions.

“Additionally, improving general health by minimizing other risk factors, such as hypertension, high cholesterol or smoking would also lower risk.”

Anger and anxiety management “are common topics in our lifestyle classes at Pritikin,” notes psychologist Dr. Coral Arvon, Director of Behavioral Health and Wellness at Pritikin, a weight-loss resort. “People are well aware that anger kills, and that anxiety has its own equally insidious effects. They often come to Pritikin to revamp not only their eating and exercise habits but their emotional habits as well.”  Get 9 key steps for managing anger.

“The real good news is that we can change,” encourages Dr. Arvon. “In classes and in individual counseling here at Pritikin, people learn how to rid themselves of anger and anxiety, and live better, more peaceful, and, yes, happier lives.”

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