The Mental and Cardiac Toll of Being Angry

A good way to relax - a boat in Maui. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
A good way to relax - a boat in Maui. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

In one of the online medical journals (Figure1) there was a clinical case presentation. It went like this:

“A 73-year-old male is brought to the emergency department by his daughter with vomiting, confusion, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). She reports that his symptoms began a few hours earlier, following a heated argument with his son. He has a history of stable angina, and takes aspirin daily. On examination, he has a temperature of 38.6 degrees Celsius and is mildly confused. His breathing rate is 30. Which is very high.”

Obviously, he was in emotional and medical distress. Did the heated argument trigger the life-threatening symptoms?

This is an example of how your emotions can affect your heart. What are the other things bad for your heart? Loneliness and depression.

Whether you are young or old, whether you exhibit your anger or not, studies have shown some of the quieter emotions can be just as toxic and damaging. If you have a sense of connection and love you will feel happy and healthy. You won’t have chest pain or shortness of breath.

Dr. Srini Pillay, MD, writes in the Harvard Health Blog (May 09, 2016), “We often think of the heart and brain as being completely separate from each other. After all, your heart and brain are located in different regions of your body, and cardiology and neurology are separate disciplines. Yet these organs are intimately connected, and when your emotions adversely affect your brain, your heart is affected as well.”

His message is simple, managing your emotions saves lives.

Besides anger, three brain-based conditions – stress, anxiety and depression – can affect your heart as well. Even in people with no prior heart disease, major depression doubles the risk of dying from heart-related causes, says Dr. Pillay.

Many famous people have had some form of mood disorder. On the Internet I found a list of famous names who have publicly gone on to say they have bipolar mood disorder (formerly known as manic depression) and are seeking help. The famous names are: Carrie Fisher, actress, Russell Brand, comedian, Catherine Zeta-Jones, actress – just to name a few.

If you are having problems controlling your anger, if it is affecting your life at home or at work, if you are having trouble maintaining relationship then you should seek professional advice. You can change your brain and get a healthier heart in the process.

Cardiac Psychology

For all the reasons outlined earlier, a new emotion-based approach to heart health, called cardiac psychology, is receiving increasing interest.

The link between heart and mind has been studied over the centuries in many fields, such as medicine and psychology. It is important to treat the mind to improve the heart. There are several articles in the medical journals on this subject. So, talk to your doctor if you care about your health and how it affects your family and friends.

There are many things you can do at home: stress management, relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation. Physical exercise like aerobics can help you be more mentally nimble by helping you think faster and make you more flexibly. As somebody has said, “Exercise is brain food.”

Various types of aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have all been proven to reduce anxiety and depression and to improve self-esteem. This is thought to be due to increased blood circulation in the brain, and the fact that exercise can improve the brain’s ability to react to stress. When you feel angry, shut your eyes and meditate for a few minutes or go for a walk. It works for me!

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