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How Anger Makes You Physically Sick

By , Caring.com contributing editor
Last updated: April 03, 2012

Anger is one of the 7 deadly emotions of caregiving. Get mad when you must -- but don't make a habit of it. That's the upshot of the latest scientific findings on how anger affects the body and the brain.

On the one hand, an angry outburst can be a stress release, better for you than keeping seething feelings bottled up inside. But chronic anger can make you physically sick, researchers say.

Frequent angry episodes can raise your risk of heart attacks and strokes and weaken your immune system, reports the U.K. Daily Mail. Chewing over past mistakes and missed opportunities -- "looking back in anger" -- can make you more sensitive to pain, too, say researchers at the University of Granada in Spain.

It's well known that anger affects the body: The heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and blood flow to muscles is reduced; glucose levels and adrenaline rise to give the muscles a shot of energy for the "fight or flight" response. Tantrums can also raise the risk of atrial fibrillation, a risk factor for stroke. The Spanish researchers believe that brain circuitry is similarly affected -- that's why ruminating about past wrongs can be damaging.

But never expressing anger when that's what you're feeling can be downright deadly. Swedish research shows that those who walked away from conflict without saying anything (though they had reason to be upset) had double the risk of a heart attack compared to men who challenged authority. Unexpressed anger is also linked to a lowered immune system.

The common thread: hostility seething through the body, whether expressed often or withheld often.

Researchers in this article don't advise how to manage anger healthfully. For caregivers, it helps to learn to deal with hotheads without blowing your own top and to learn ways to cope with the frustration that loved ones can trigger.

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Image by Flickr user tommy the pariah/away, used under a Creative Commons license.