How short is your fuse? The answer to this question plays a part in determining your heart disease risk. If your fuse is typically short (that is, if you are quick to anger), lengthening it may lengthen your life. There is strong evidence that anger, hostility and cynicism are linked to increased heart disease risk, including increased mortality. In fact, anger may influence heart disease risk as much as smoking, obesity and inactivity.
But on the bright side, keeping a more passive, positive outlook and engaging in frequent laughter may help improve your health and your quality of life.
Anger & the Risk for Heart Disease
Studies have shown that people who are angry more frequently and more intensely are at higher risk for all heart disease events, including heart attack, silent heart attack and bypass surgery. They are also more likely to die suddenly from a heart-related event.
Men are more likely than women to act out their anger when stressed. This may be due to cultural factors and perhaps feeling frustrated that they can’t fix certain situations. In particular, young men who frequently become angry under stress have an increased risk of developing heart disease before the age of 55 (known as “premature heart disease”) and having a heart attack.
However, both men and women may exhibit the traits characteristic of a “type A” personality, which is typically described as a go-getting, stressed, short-fused perfectionist. And “type A” personality trait has also been associated with an increased heart disease risk. But the latest evidence suggests it is most likely anger or hostility that is responsible for the increased risk of heart disease in this group of people.
This is encouraging because while it is difficult to change some personality traits, it is possible to address anger and manage stress so it doesn’t overwhelm you.
Of course, the best course of action is to not get angry in the first place, but that’s more easily said that done. In fact, sometimes it’s just not possible. In those situations, it may help to acknowledge your anger and take positive steps to try to change the situation that is making you angry. This might mean removing yourself from the situation and talking with someone who is impartial and willing to listen just listen.
Mind Over Matter
On the bright side, a positive outlook appears to offer some protection against heart disease. A promising recent study showed that people with heart disease who had optimistic expectations about their recovery (despite how severe their illness was) were less likely to die over a 15-year period than patients with pessimistic expectations.
This is great news! You may be in more control of your health than you ever thought possible. If you can think positively, you may be able to improve your heart health, feel better and live longer.
The theory is that optimists have better coping strategies, such as actively seeking ways to improve their overall health and following prescribed medical treatment plans more diligently. Pessimists may not be as proactive about maintaining health and may feel a higher level of overall stress, which has damaging effects on the body and prevents people from following through with healthy lifestyle behaviors and their medical treatment plans.
No Laughing Matter: Laughing Matters
While it’s not easy to prove, there is some evidence that laughing may help improve blood flow, immune response, blood sugar control, relaxation and sleep. It may not be the act of laughing that makes people feel better. It may be that a positive attitude, a good sense of humor and the support of friends and family might play a role, too. Regardless of whether laughter itself improves your health, it undoubtedly helps improve your quality of life and your happiness, which may impact your health.
In general, most people (except perhaps those who are clinically depressed) have some control over their approach to life and health. You cannot control everything in life, but you can control how you react to everything in life. When you choose to approach life with a positive outlook and a sense of humor, you may successfully manage your stress and reap many rewards such as social support, happiness, and perhaps a longer, healthier life.
Learn About Stress Management
For more information about how to reduce the impact of stress on your health, check out the SecondsCount Stress Management Center. We also invite you to review these helpful articles:
The SecondsCount team has also developed tools to help get you thinking about how stress may be affecting you. You may want to discuss what you learn with your healthcare team.