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Anger's Effect on Heart Health

Anger’s Effect on Heart Health: Understanding the Risks and Importance of Emotional Regulation

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Researchers have discovered a significant connection between intense emotions and heart health by studying the impact of anger on the heart in young, healthy adults. Scientists at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York conducted a study that emphasizes the numerous ways in which intense anger significantly impacts blood vessel function and increases the risk of life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks and strokes for as long as 40 minutes after the event.

In addition to performing a neutral cognitive exercise, study participants had to recall emotionally charged experiences that focused on arousing feelings of rage, anxiety, or melancholy. After these exercises, researchers carefully recorded the participants’ blood pressure and blood vessel dilatation at predetermined intervals.

The study’s conclusions showed that people who remembered previous experiences that made them angry experienced decreased blood vessel dilatation for up to 40 minutes after the exercise. This reduced blood flow, or impairment in blood vessel function, has severe consequences for cardiovascular health as it can increase the risk of unfavorable cardiac events.

In the study, 280 participants were randomly divided into groups and given emotional recall tasks that were all intended to evoke particular emotional responses. By thoroughly studying the lining of the blood vessel cells, researchers discovered the signs of “impaired blood vessel dilation, increased cell injury, and reduced cell-repair capacity” in reaction to angry events. These physiological alterations highlight the complex connection between cardiovascular health and emotional feelings. If ever you wondered about the importance of managing emotional reactions, then this is proof as to how much it matters in order to maintain heart health.

As a brief outline of what actually happens when you get angry:

The amygdala (part of your ancient survival mechanism in your brain) is what first gets triggered – sometimes even before you recognise you’re angry. It then instructs the adrenal glands to flood the body with stress hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline and nor-adrenaline. The brain shunts blood away from the gut and towards the muscles, in preparation for physical exertion.
Heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase; body temperature rises and the skin perspires. The mind is sharpened and focused. You know what happens next.

What is lesser known, are the subtler but ongoing affects of this internal pressure. This pressure speeds up molecules transitioning through the blood vessel wall, but not all of these molecules are wanted in the bloodstream – and this creates a toxic build-up in your blood which the liver has to then work harder to clear. Over long periods of time, this constant flood of stress chemicals and toxic build-up starts to present in metabolic changes to the body – i.e. a break-down in the efficient removal of unwanted molecules – and this is inflammation.

Ongoing unmanaged anger eventually causes harm to many different systems of the body.

What you feel first is:

  • headaches
  • digestion problems / abdominal pain
  • insomnia
  • increased anxiety
  • depression
  • high blood pressure
  • skin problems, such as eczema

A change in metabolism will occur over a longer period of time – 5-10 years gestation before you get symptoms!

Metabolic syndrome can lead to:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke

In order to lessen the adverse effects on our health, and particularly our cardiovascular health, the research points out the need for people to understand the risks associated with strong emotional responses, especially anger. The significance of learning healthy emotional regulation could not be more emphasized.

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