Anger wears many guises: impatience, frustration, hurt, depression, and hostility to name just a few. Most people feel mild to moderate anger several times a week. How do frequent bouts of anger or unresolved conflict impact our health? A couple of examples will definitely surprise you!
Reduces Frontal Brain Capacity
Anger often alters people’s perceptions, forms their decisions, and guides their behavior while they remain angry, regardless of whether the decisions at hand are related to the source of their anger.1 Angry ruminations over past hurts or supposed hurts reduce our ability to see alternative options and solve problems.
Anger’s Physiological Effects
Anger drives the sympathetic nervous system that normally prepares us for emergency action. Up goes the heart rate and blood vessels tighten, driving the blood pressure up. Is this anger? Back muscles may spasm and the blood is more likely to clot. The walls of the stomach may become engorged with an excessive amount of blood. Its parietal cells pour out extra hydrochloric acid, thereby weakening the protective lining (mucosa) of the stomach. Intense anger and hostility in marriages delay wound healing in the skin.2 Additionally, anger sometimes increases inflammatory compounds in susceptible individuals. Chronic inflammation fuels chronic diseases.
Increases Dental Bills!
Your dentist will never tell you this: Anger substantially increases the risk for periodontal disease. One study examined the association between social support, anger expression, and periodontitis in 42,523 U.S.-based male health professionals. More than half were dentists! When the men came in for their first dental checkup at the beginning of this research in 1996, they were free of periodontitis. At the end of this research when the men came back for another checkup, the researchers found that subjects who reported having at least one close friend had a 30 percent lower risk of developing periodontitis compared to those who did not have a close friend. After the authors adjusted for potential confounding variables, men whose anger scores were in the top quintile were 72 percent more likely to report having periodontitis compared to men whose scores were in the lowest anger scores.3
Increases Risk of Heart Attack
Anger makes the heart work harder. Researchers from the University of Sydney showed that the risk of a heart attack is 8.5 times higher in the two hours following a burst of intense anger.4,5 The activation of sympathetic nerves and the acute surge of epinephrine contribute to this elevated risk.
Increases Risk for Hypertension
Impatience is a shade of anger, isn’t it? Time urgency impatience is a definite risk factor for developing hypertension. One study found that young adults who scored highest on the impatience scale had an 84 percent higher risk of developing high blood pressure than those who scored the lowest.6 Remember this caveat: Cardiovascular disease also lowers a person’s threshold for irritability and anger.
How a person actually handles anger may be more important than the anger itself when looking at an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Both anger suppression and destructive anger expressions are closely linked to a higher risk for coronary artery disease.
Anger in Marriage & Health
Recurring anger blow-ups—as seen in intermittent explosive disorder which is characterized by impulsivity, hostility, and recurring aggressive outbursts—increases inflammation.7
The way couples habitually deal with their anger throughout the years of their marriage predicts their health problems. For example, spouses who were observed during their conversations to snap or explode easily were at higher risk of developing chest pain, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular problems over time. On the contrary, those who barely spoke or avoided eye contact were more susceptible to developing backaches, stiff necks, and joint problems.8
Beneficial Effects of Forgiveness
Your health depends upon your capacity to forgive. The ability to forgive has been linked to improved blood pressure. It helps the heart to beat more efficiently at less physiological cost.9 Forgiveness improves general well-being and improves immune efficiency.10 . Just how does one forgive a deep injury? Click this link to find out! Free at last! The Healing Process of Forgiveness.
Using Anger for Good
But is anger always destructive, or can anger be focused, controlled, helpful, and even creative? Anger painfully reminds us of our vulnerability and defects. Can it give us strength as well? Yes, if we learn how to manage our stresses successfully, how to replace our negative thought patterns with positive ones, and how to forgive. Anger appropriately expressed can build relationships.11 For more practical information on stress management and relationships, visit our other articles on stress.
- Balog, P. (2018), Negative emotions associated with cardiovascular diseases. Orv Hetil, 159 (48), pp. 2005-2010.
- Society for Personality and Social Psychology. (2012, August 2). Sometimes expressing anger can help a relationship in the long-term. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 18, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/rleases/2012/08/120802133649.htm.
- Potegal, M., G. Stemmler, & Spielberger, C. (2010) International Handbook of Anger: Constituent and Concomitant Biological, Psychological, and Social Processes. New York, NY: Springer Publishing.
- Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., et al. (2005). Hostile marital interactions, proinflammatory cytokine production, and wound healing. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 62 (12), pp. 1377-84.
- Merchant, A.T. (2003). A prospective study of social support, anger expression and risk of periodontitis in men. J Am Dent Assoc., 134 (12), pp 1591-6.
- Tofler GH et al. Triggering of acute coronary occlusion by episodes of anger. European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care. February 2015 DOI: 10.1177/2048872615568969
- Buckley, T., et al. (2015). Triggering of acute coronary occlusion by episodes of anger. Eur Heart J Acute Cardiovasc Care, 4 (6), pp. 493-8.
- Yan LL. Psychosocial factors and risk of hypertension: the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. JAMA. 2003 Oct 22; 290(16):2138-48.
- Coccaro E.F. (2014). Elevated plasma inflammatory markers are seen in individuals with intermittent explosive disorder and correlation with aggression in humans. JAMA Psychiatry, 71 (2), pp. 158-65.
- Haase, C.M. (2016). Interpersonal emotional behaviors and physical health: A 20-year longitudinal study of long-term married couples. Emotion 16 (7), pp. 965-77.
- May R.W. (2014). Effect of anger and trait forgiveness on cardiovascular risk in young adult females. Am J Cardiol. 114 (1), pp. 47-52.
- Harrison P. Forgiveness Can Improve Immune Function. Medscape. Aug.15, 2019. www.medscape.com/viewarticle/742198
- Society for Personality and Social Psychology. (2012, August 2). Sometimes expressing anger can help a relationship in the long-term. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120802133649.htm