New Research Shows Brief Anger May Affect Your Heart Health—But Is the Emotion Ever a Good Thing?

We’ve all been there—sweaty palms, clenched jaw, on the brink of completely losing it. Anger isn’t the most pleasant feeling, so it’s not entirely surprising that it can also take a toll on your health.

A recent study examining anger’s impact on heart health found that even short bursts of anger may have a negative effect.

For the study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers recruited 208 healthy young adults. They took blood samples and blood pressure readings before and after instructing participants to perform one of four tasks: counting aloud or recounting memories that evoked either anger, sadness, or anxiety.

The scientists found that, compared to participants in the other three groups, the blood vessels of those who revisited anger-related memories had a diminished ability to dilate. When blood vessels can’t dilate, they spend more time constricted and can stress the heart.1

Anger “impairs the function of your arteries, which is linked to future heart attack risk,” lead study author Daichi Shimbo, MD, cardiologist and co-director of the hypertension center at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said in a statement.

This study isn’t the first to suggest a link between anger and heart health. Research also suggests that anger—when unresolved—may increase the risk of gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, headaches, and mood disorders, Jacques Ambrose, MD, a psychiatrist and senior medical director at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, told Health. It may also weaken the immune system and exacerbate existing conditions like arthritis.

But while it’s clear that anger can have negative side effects, it also stands to reason that—like other natural emotions, such as fear and joy—it serves some valuable purpose. So, can anger ever be a good thing?

Here’s what experts had to say about the upside of anger.

A Catalyst for Good

Being angry does serve an important function, Ryan Martin, PhD, author and professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, told Health. Feeling anger calls attention to injustices in the world and “encourages us to assert ourselves when we’re being treated poorly,” he said.

The physiological response that accompanies anger can also be helpful, he added.

When we perceive unfairness, that threat triggers the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response, causing physical effects such as a spiked heart rate, tensed muscles, and flushed cheeks. This response also boosts focus, alertness, and energy, which can help you take action and problem-solve.

A recent study even found that people who completed a set of challenging tasks, such as solving puzzles or playing video games, while in a state of anger performed better than participants who felt other emotions, such as sadness or amusement.2

When Anger Turns Unhealthy

While anger can be constructive, it can become unhealthy in certain circumstances, Martin said.

That can happen if the anger becomes disproportionate to the event that triggers it or if someone holds on to it for an extended period.

“When people ruminate on their anger, replaying the event in their minds and holding onto resentment, it can lead to chronic anger that negatively impacts mental and physical health,” Ambrose said.

Anger also crosses the threshold from constructive to maladaptive when it leads to aggression or other destructive outcomes, such as damaging relationships, Martin added.

Ways to Manage Anger

To prevent anger from veering into unhealthy territory, Martin said it’s important for people to “[recognize] the signs of escalating anger and employ effective anger management strategies to prevent the transition from occurring.”

Fortunately, there are multiple options to choose from.

Ambrose recommends stress management techniques such as exercise and mindfulness meditation, which studies have shown may help reduce negative thoughts or unhelpful emotional reactions during stressful periods.3

“For mindfulness meditation, the goal is to cultivate awareness of present-moment experiences without judgment, allowing individuals to observe and acknowledge their feelings of anger without becoming consumed by them,” Ambrose said.

Taking deep breaths during meditation or establishing a breathwork routine may offer additional benefits, Ambrose said. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in a lower heart rate and feelings of calmness.4

Another strategy, progressive muscle relaxing, can also “release the physical tension associated with anger,” according to Ambrose. The technique involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body, such as the neck, shoulders, biceps, forearms, and fingers.

If you’re having difficulty controlling the intensity or duration of your anger, you may benefit from seeing a mental health professional. They can help you work through the issues or determine if there’s an underlying health condition, such as bipolar affective disorder, that might be contributing to your flare-ups.

Source: New Research Shows Brief Anger May Affect Your Heart Health—But Is the Emotion Ever a Good Thing?

You may also like...