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The Anger-Damage effect on your heart: Guest blog from Dr Alan Levy

THE ANGER-DAMAGE EFFECT ON YOUR HEART

Guest Article by By Alan Levy, Ph.D.

How does anger do its damage and contribute to heart trouble? In this brief article, I explain the physiological and psychological mechanisms that are problematic ways of handling frustration and anger. I also present 8 helpful hints to better manage negative emotions and protect your physical and mental health.

How does Anger Affect our Bodies?

First, here’s how the physiological mechanism of anger works, according to the nation’s top heart-brain research centers, such as the Cleveland Clinic: Emotions like anger and hostility stimulate the “fight or flight” response of your sympathetic nervous system, releasing the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.

These chemicals significantly speed your heart rate and your respiration. Your blood pressure goes up, and your body is hit with a burst of fight-flight energy. That’s often what triggers someone to fly into a rage, to
begin yelling and even throwing things.

This heightened state of physiological activation is designed to mobilize you for real emergencies, but can become habitual. Chronically high levels of stress hormones cause extra wear on your cardiovascular system.

Even the walls of your arteries can be damaged by the frequent anger response, because of the extra load of glucose and fat globules secreted into the blood stream.

The Good News

The good news is that anger and hostility as a risk factor can be changed for the better, just as blood pressure or cholesterol can be modified. Of course, stress can’t be measured as easily as cholesterol, but you can learn to take responsibility for your emotional responses and modify them for the better. Here are a few tips to interrupt storms of explosive anger or relieve yourself of self-damaging, imploded anger.

  1. Recognize, as early as possible, when you’re beginning to feel angry.
  2. Pause, before saying something or doing something impulsively. The time-worn advice– “count to ten”– is still wise.
  3. Put the situation into perspective. Ask yourself if this issue will matter 5 years from now.
  4. Say to yourself: “If this is as big a deal tomorrow as it is now, I’ll deal with it then, when I’ve cooled off a bit.
  5. Realize that, even though someone else’s behavior might have triggered your upset, blaming them for it won’t help you take responsibility for handling it well enough to regain your emotional balance.
  6. Understand that acting angry is not the way to show that you really care about something or someone.
  7. You may understand the nature of your problems with anger, but if you can’t put your insight into practice, it’s time to consult with an experienced therapist. Even a brief investment in counseling can
    produce remarkable results.
  8. Finally, remember to take this to heart: a change of heart comes from a change of mind about how you handle frustrating situations.

To sum it up, stressful reactions such as anger, anxiety, guilt, or mood instability can add up to increased risk for all kinds of medical problems, including heart trouble. Taking care of your emotional health will pay off with big dividends in maintaining your physical health and well-being.

Dr Alan Levy is an seasoned psychologist who practices in Costa Mesa, California. His website: alanlevyphd.com

Downloads

Download a FREE Worksheet PDF file called “Areas of Change” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

Angry Mothers: Learn Mindfulness. Then Teach It To Your Children!

Copy of assertive-arm and hand movements angry woman

The Problem
“I can’t deal with my own children,” lamented a young mother in one of our anger management classes.“They won’t listen, they do exactly what they want, they constantly fight with each other, and they won’t do their chores without a major argument.”

This young mother was ashamed that she was constantly angry at her own children. In response to their behavior, she would yell at them, call them names, and make empty threats of horrible consequences for non-compliance.But these responses did not seem to work; in fact, it made things worse as the children developed resentment and increased defiance toward their screaming mother.

The Solution As in an airline emergency, first put the oxygen mask on yourself. Then, put the oxygen mask on your children. You can’t expect your children to show good coping skills. and to handle stress well if you are impaired yourself.

Start by learning and then teaching mindfulness. to your children. It is amazingly simple, yet very effective over time. It helps mothers first deal with their own stress and anger and then gives her tools to teach to their children so that they can generally cope better with life. The positive effects of mindfulness has much science behind it and has many applications for both children and adults.

Mindfulness can be many things, but at its core, it is the skill of learning to focus on our present thoughts, feelings and body sensations without judgement. Many people associate this with meditation, but meditation is only one path to achieve mindfulness. It is very useful for relaxation, but it is much more than that. For children, it helps them become more attentive, balanced, and aware. For some, it has the potential to help kids see their lives more clearly, to become more positive and less tired, and to chose appropriate life paths.Learn more about this on CPR Classes Tampa.

As a first step toward helping our stressed client deal with her own stress, we taught her various tools of anger control. As a starter, we introduced the concept of mindful meditation consisting of simple breathing exercises. Mindfulness helps both mother and child calm down, to re-focus on what is important, to become more reflective, and to perhaps teach both to respond in different ways to family stress. Research shows that mindful practices over time increase “emotional intelligence” in children as they better understand how their brain works and how to develop more self-control with that knowledge.

Following are some simple breathing meditations that mother and child can practice together, taken from a book called “The Mindful Child” by Susan Kaiser Greenland :

Counting 1-1-1-1-1-1. When you breath in, let your body relax. When you breath out, silently count one, one, one, until your lungs feel empty. Repeat by relaxing again as you inhale and silently counting two, two, two, two, two, as you exhale. Repeat once more by relaxing as you inhale again and silently counting three, three,three, three, for the entire out breath. Continue this exercise in sets of three breaths (counting 1 on the first exhale, 2 on the second, and 3 on the third), until your mind quiets and you can rest in the physical sensation of breathing without counting.

When teaching this to your child, be aware that it takes time for them to accept the idea. Don’t force the issue, or another power struggle may develop, making things worse. For younger children, you may have to start with a 1 minute exercise, then gradually expand the time as your child progresses and sees the benefit. Don’t force them to close their eyes; some people prefer to keep eyes open.

The actress Goldie Hawn has written a delightful book on mindfulness called “10 Mindful Minutes.” which I would recommend to all parents. Among the wise nuggets of information is the followng: “Mindful parenting involves recognizing and nurturing our children’s unique personalities and not seeing them as projections of ourselves. There’s simply no cookie-cutter standard for how to treat our children.”

In our anger management classes we teach parents to respond instead of react to the behavior of our children that is troublesome. Hawn, in her book, amplifies this approach by saying that “reactive parenting can be very detrimental for our children. Yelling at them for forgetting something or doing something we don’t like only frightens them – it doesn’t make them stop.” We can gain control over our anger by understanding that our higher thinking has been hijacked by our emotional state; hence, we’re no longer in control.”

Once parents learn to respond differently to their children – not just react in knee-jerk fashion- the next step is to teach their children the same. Children need to understand how their brain works and how to deal with anger and frustration that all people experience. Hawn explains this simply as follows: “The anger and frustration that we feel in such moments is simply our Guard Dog amygdala {section of the brain} responding to the perceived stressful situation and taking over our emotions. Once we understand this, we can learn to recognize when we’ve been hijacked and accept that the path back to clear thinking is mindful awareness. ….”

In summary, a mindful approach to parenting quiets the minds of both parent and child, reduces stress, and puts both of you more in control of your emotions. Doesn’t that sound better than living in a family with constant yelling, screaming, negativism, and fighting?

Reduce Anger by Asserting Yourself

This holiday season, you may find yourself in groups or gatherings that make you feel uncomfortable. Sometime you can change it without offending anyone, yet standing up for our rights or opinions. We call this “assertive communication.”

When the tone of a social gathering becomes too confrontational, negative, lewd, insensitive, prejudiced, or otherwise distasteful, you needn’t remain at the mercy of it. You can usually find a way to but speak up,so that
things back move back into positive territory.

Speak your mind (in a nice way) by letting others know how you are feelings in response to what is going on. Offenders may be taken aback, but those who share your discomfort will welcome the intervention.

Too often we let situations deteriorate beyond what we find acceptable and may be hesitant to address it. But silence often only helps to condone the behavior and may create resentment and stress in you.

Anger At Work Linked To Stress

Some people say they know just what to do when their jobs becoming too stressful, but others feel stuck and frustrated. There are tears and confrontations which can lead to poor productivity, abuse of sick days, stealing supplies, and irritability or depression.

Sometimes the stress and anger are due to home problems which the employee brings with them to work. In other cases, it is the work setting itself which is causing the problem. Too much workload, perceived lack of recognition or appreciation by management, and conflict with co-workers or supervisors are often involved.

For more information on tools to deal with workplace stress and anger (sometimes called “desk rage”), click here.

Anger May Trigger Heart Problems

If you have heart problems and are on a ventricular fibrillator, try to stay calm!

Boston researchers are reporting that bursts of anger may trigger potentially fatal heart rhythm disturbances. The hotter the temper, the higher the risk appears of ventricular fibrillation.

“The old conventional wisdom is that, if you know someone has a heart condition, don’t get them upset,” said Dr. Chris Simpson, medical director of the cardiac program at Kingston General Hospital in Kingston, Ont.

There have been hints before that emotional events can cause disturbances in heart rhythm and the balance between our innate “fight or flight” response, Simpson said. But this is the first “direct, solid evidence that an episode of anger can immediately precede a dangerous arrhythmia” said Simpson, a spokesman for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Learning to manage anger involves eight core tools including learning to deal with stress, and learning different “self-talk” to take the stress out of potentially stressful situations. Deep breathing, meditation, and better time management can also greatly reduce stress in many people’s lives.