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How Anger Causes Stress and Hurts Your Health

Anger, just like anything else, isn’t all good or all bad: It has many pros and cons. The following sections explain those for you, so that you get a clear picture of anger and the effect it may have on your life.

The positives of anger

Anger can be a highly distressing emotion that results in all kinds of negative consequences. Yet among the other possible stress emotions (upset, depression, grief, anxiety, and so on), anger remains the most popular and the most common. And not without reason. Anger has some appeal:

  • Anger is activating and mobilizing.

  • Anger makes you feel powerful.

  • Anger often gets results.

  • Anger is often a respected response.

The downsides of anger

Although your anger does have its upside, the downside of anger far outweighs any positive benefits. Besides being emotionally distressing and making you a prime candidate for a black eye, anger can give you other things to worry about.

Anger can make you sick

When you’re angry, your body reacts much the same way it does when you’re experiencing any other stress reaction. Your anger triggers your body to take a defensive stance, readying you for any danger that may come your way.

When your anger is intense and frequent, the physiological effects can be harmful. Your health is at risk. And any or all of those nasty stress-related illnesses and disorders can become linked to excessive anger.

Anger can harm your heart

Recent research now indicates that your heart (or, more accurately, your cardiovascular system) is particularly vulnerable to your anger and its negative effects. In his book Anger Kills, Duke University researcher Redford Williams describes a number of possible ways hostility can negatively affect your cardiovascular system:

  • When potentially hostile individuals were angry, they had larger than normal increases in blood flow to their muscles (suggesting an exaggerated fight-or-flight response).

  • Potentially hostile individuals with higher levels of blood cholesterol were found to secrete more adrenaline than those individuals with lower levels of cholesterol.

  • People who scored high on measures of hostility tended to have fewer friends.

  • Hostile individuals typically don’t take good care of themselves.

Anger can break other people’s hearts

When you’re angry, you’re probably not a whole lot of fun to be with. Even worse, your hostility and aggression can be downright destructive. Your anger affects those around you — the people you live with, work with, and interact with.

Anger can strain and damage your relationships with your partner, spouse, children, friends, and coworkers. Together, anger and hostility can lead to conflict, mental and physical abuse, breakups, and divorce. Because of your anger, you may endanger your chances for career advancement or even lose your job. Anger tends to escalate, as well.

The other party involved often becomes angry, too. When you’re angry, you may do something or say something you regret later on, which can lead to other stress emotions, such as guilt, shame, upset, and depression.

Anger can shorten your life

Research shows that your life can actually be shortened by anger. Psychologist John Barefoot measured the hostility levels of 118 law students. Then, he tracked these individuals for 25 years.

He found that nearly 20 percent of those who scored in the upper quarter of the hostility scale had died by the age of 50. In comparison, he noted a death rate by the age of 50 of only 5 percent for those who scored in the lowest quarter of the scale.

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