Anger can kill you

Here’s even more reason to count to 10 before losing your temper: Anger and other strong emotions can trigger potentially deadly heart rhythms in people who are particularly vulnerable, according to new research.

In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, US researchers found that anger-induced electrical changes in the heart can lead to arrhythmias in people with implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs).

While previous research has shown an increase in sudden cardiac death during times of stress (such as earthquake and war), this study provides the first evidence that changes brought on by anger and other strong emotions can predict arrhythmias and may link mental stress to sudden cardiac arrest — which in the United States alone, is responsible for over 400,000 deaths each year.

“It’s an important study because we are beginning to understand how anger and other types of mental stress can trigger potentially lethal ventricular arrhythmias, especially among patients with structural heart abnormalities,” says study leader Rachel Lampert, M.D. and associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine.

“More research is needed, but these data suggest that therapies focused on helping patients deal with anger and other negative emotions may help reduce arrhythmias and, therefore, sudden cardiac death in certain patients.” (Anger Management: The Key to Staying Heart Healthy?)

7 tips to tame the flame

Anger, when expressed appropriately, can actually have its benefits. Experts say it can help to protect you from dangerous situations, energize you to resolve problems and on a larger scale, even lead to social or cultural reforms.

But if temper flare-ups are negatively affecting your relationships — and quite possibly your health — it may be time to look at the way you express your anger. The Mayo Clinic offers these 7 tips:

Take a “time out.” It’s advice you’ve undoubtedly heard before, but counting to 10 before reacting to a situation really can defuse your anger.

Get physical (and not with your fist). If you feel your temper boiling, engage in a physical activity such as a brisk walk or a run. Or if you’d prefer, go for a swim, lift weights or shoot baskets — any of these physical activities will work as an outlet for your emotions.

Find ways to calm yourself. Practice relaxation exercises, such as meditation or deep breathing. Deep abdominal breathing calms the nervous system and normalizes the heart rate. (Read more on how deep breathing can lower your blood pressure.) You can also listen to calming music, write in a journal, paint or do yoga.

Don’t stew. Once you’re calm, express your anger as soon as possible so that you aren’t left stewing. If you feel you can’t express your anger in a controlled way to the person who angered you, try talking to someone else instead, say a family member or close friend. If you are confronting the person who angered you, consider carefully what you say so that you don’t end up escalating tensions and saying something you’ll regret. You may even want to write a script and rehearse it so that you can stick to the issues.

Focus on solutions. Work with the person who angered you to identify solutions to the situation. When describing the problem it’s a good idea to use “I” statements to avoid criticizing or placing blame. (For instance, saying “I’m upset you didn’t help with the housework this evening,” is preferable to, “You should have helped with the housework.”)

Look for the light side. Humour, such as imagining yourself or the other person in silly situations, can be useful in releasing tension. Sarcasm, however, is something else altogether. Avoid using sarcasm, as it’s another form of unhealthy expression.

Don’t hold a grudge. Once the situation has been addressed, move on. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to behave exactly as you want. (Read about the health benefits of forgiveness.)

A final note: While you can practice many of these anger management strategies on your own, experts say that if your anger still seems out of control, is hurting your relationships or has escalated into violence, you may benefit from seeing a psychotherapist or an anger management professional.

Sources: Journal of the American College of Cardiology news release; Mayo Clinic.