There’s a mounting body of research that identifies anger as a precursor to heart attack. We know it doesn’t feel good to lose our cool, but knowing that anger and heart disease are closely tied should be considered a red flag to put some anger management exercises and relaxation tips into practice.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 610,000 Americans die from heart disease each year – that’s one in every four deaths. In the U.S., someone has a heart attack every 43 seconds. To put it bluntly, each minute, someone in the United States dies from a heart disease-related event.￼
When it comes to anger and heart attack statistics, it’s important to know that age is a key factor, mainly because poor lifestyle habits can set you up with the following risk factors:
While most heart attack victims are middle-aged or older, the average age for a first attack is 66 for men and 70 for women, although people in their 20s and 30s also have heart attacks. The risk of a heart attack climbs for men after age 45 and for women after age 55.
Now add anger to the list of risk factors that you can do something about…
Harvard University researchers brought defining research to light with their review – published in the European Heart Journal in 2014 – which took into account studies that made a correlation between anger and a host of cardiovascular issues between January 1966 and June 2013. From the results of nine particular studies, researchers put together and re-examined data on 5,000 heart attacks, 800 strokes, and 300 cases of ventricular arrhythmia – or an abnormal heartbeat.
They worked out that the annual rate of heart attacks out of 10,000 people who are angry just once every month (honestly, just once a month?!) increases slightly among those with a low cardiovascular risk, and by nearly five in those who have a higher cardiovascular risk. Still, for those who exhibited at least five outbursts of anger every day, this figure rises to 158 additional heart attacks for those with low cardiovascular risk, and 657 extra heart attacks for those with a high cardiovascular risk.
In other words, an angry person with a history of heart problems is five times more likely to suffer a heart attack than someone who is not. Meanwhile, the risk of stroke is more than threefold in the couple of hours following any outburst. The chance of developing other heart problems, such as a ventricular arrhythmia, a myocardial infarction (MI), and an acute coronary syndrome (ACS), goes up, too, especially for those who are frequently angered.
Anger management techniques for men and women need to become a priority. Here are a few top strategies from Harvard Health:
1. Try to identify the things that bother you most and do your best to change them.Knowing what makes you angry is a first step to understanding your behavior and changing your response.
2. Learn to recognize warning signs of building tension. Your racing pulse, fast breathing, or that “fight or flight” jumpy, restless feeling are all signals. When you become aware of the warning signs, take steps to relieve the tension. Often, something as simple as a walk can cool things down.
3. Don’t boil in silence. If you bottle things up, you’re more likely to blow up and lose control – setting yourself up for a heart attack. Talk out your feelings with your partner or a good friend.
4. Journal your anger. Another effective strategy is to write down your feelings. Try to explain to yourself why you are so irritated or upset.
5. Try meditation or deep breathing exercises. These are great relaxation techniques that can defuse your hot button. A study from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), revealed that meditation gives you the ability to think more clearly and rationally, so instead of yelling at others you can approach stressful situations more mindfully.
6. With practice, change behaviors that light your fuse. Don’t always try to have the last word (sound familiar?). Try not to raise your voice. Don’t swear. Don’t clench your teeth. This is a good one: Practice smiling! Faking an emotion does have an impact on how you feel. Another one of the top anger management tips: Wait a few seconds when you feel on outburst coming on, then try to express yourself calmly.
7. Exercise regularly to help you vent and boost your mood. Benefits of exercise are endless, so try to get active daily. Exercise has been shown to help rewire your brain – it releases positive endorphins in the brain that make you feel happier and help let go of your anger. Even a 20-minute walk outdoors is enough to elevate mood and promote clearer thinking.
8. If all fails, seek professional help. Studies have reported that stress management classes can protect men from anger-induced heart problems, and individual counseling may be even better.
With these anger management exercises at hand, you can go a long way to curb your anger and protect your heart. Becoming more mindful of your anger triggers and habitual responses can help you change your ways and instill new heart-healthy habits.