Emotions can have a powerful influence on our bodies and our overall health. Our thoughts and the chemical and physical reactions they produce (stress has been shown to release toxins in the body) can have tremendous effects on how we function. As chiropractors we tend to focus on how this affects the health of your spine and nervous system as it is one of the components that can cause subluxations in the spine. But emotions also affect your body as a whole, and anger may be one of the most destructive emotions we have when it comes to our health. An analysis of 44 studies that was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that individuals who were initially healthy but who experienced anger on a regular basis had a greater risk of heart disease. They also found that angry subjects who already had heart disease had worse outcomes.
Now, we’re not saying that anger or any emotions for that matter are necessarily bad. Moderate amounts of anger from time to time do not adversely affect health, and experts agree that bottling up anger is just as destructive to our health as ranting and raging. However, intense anger experienced on a frequent basis is another matter.
Dr. Laura Kubzansky, MPH, who is an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, has studied the effects of emotions and stress on cardiovascular disease. She said, “Being able to tell people that you’re angry can be extremely functional. But those who rage at others and who throw things or hit walls may have an increased risk of heart disease, as may people who suppress their rage. Either end of the continuum is problematic.”
It is believed that it is the release of stress hormones in response to anger that damages the cardiovascular system. Intense anger floods the body with adrenaline and cortisol, which can cause wear and tear on the cardiovascular system when it becomes a chronic condition. Anger can also increase the risk of atherosclerosis. Anger causes the heart to pump harder, raises blood pressure, constricts blood vessels and releases higher levels of glucose into the blood, which can cause damage to the walls of your arteries in the form of fatty plaque buildup.
The continual flow of stress hormones can lead to other health problems as well, such as increased anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive problems, headaches, skin problems and stroke. So it is important to learn how to manage your anger appropriately so that it does not continue to have adverse effects on your health.
Both explosions of anger and repressing anger are damaging to yourself and others. However, there are some things that you can do as a safe and healthy outlet for your anger that can also help decrease stress you may be feeling:
- Accept that you feel angry – Many people keep their anger under wraps because they believe it is “bad” to feel that way, or perhaps they have experienced anger from a parent or spouse and have vowed they will never be like that. Feeling anger is perfectly normal, and expressing it in a healthy way is not destructive to you or to others.
- Take time out – If you feel that you are losing control of your anger, remove yourself from the situation for a while until you calm down. Take slow, deep breaths and go for a walk, if possible.
- Get regular exercise – Exercising or practicing a sport is a great way to release steam and keep your emotions at a more even level.
- Learn to relax – Consider taking a class in yoga and/or meditation to help you achieve a greater state of overall calm.
- Talk to someone – Discussing your feelings of anger with a counselor or therapist is a good way of addressing underlying issues that may be contributing to your feelings of anger.