Alarming new research suggests that people who experience anger outbursts are five times more likely to suffer a cardiovascular incident, such as a heart attack or stroke – within two hours following the outburst! This risk appears to accumulate for individuals who experience frequent outbursts, although even occasional expressions of rage can have a profound impact, suggests researchers from Harvard University.
Anger activates the ‘fight-or-flight’ response of the sympathetic nervous system, which causes the heart rate to increase, adrenaline to rush through our veins, muscles to tense up and an overwhelming feeling of being pressured and edgy . This biological response that prepares us for action can feel so automatic and powerful, that at the extreme, can have disastrous consequences in the form of rage.
Fortunately, there are techniques that can work to reduce the anger-response and physical arousal. Some anger management strategies I discussed in an interview with ninemsn and are worth checking out. Here are some further suggestions:
- Stress is often related to increased anger outbursts due to frustrations in areas of our life, e.g. relationships, work or finances, spilling over into other domains. Our thinking can become catastrophic and we start to lose proper perspective. To combat stress, look at problem-solving your concerns and develop an action plan towards changing your circumstances.
- Develop calming ‘self-talk’ statements (“keep cool, I can get through this”; “it’s not a big deal, just keep calm”; “this will pass”) to help you in the moment when you feel anger rising.
- Similarly, watch out for anger-inducing cognitions. It’s amazing how easily and quickly our thoughts can fuel the anger inside and trigger an outburst. Be on the look out for thoughts such as “I can’t stand this”, “that’s it! I’ve had enough” and “that’s unfair!”. Learn to turn them around by replacing them with calming statements.
- Learn arousal-reduction techniques, such as controlled breathing and implement relaxation techniques regularly. If your baseline stress level is down, you will be less prone to anger outbursts. Controlled breathing helps reverse the adrenaline, so remember to take a breath! Count backwards from ten as a way to focus and consider heading outdoors.
- Exercise regularly! There is a mountain of evidence backing up the relationship between exercise and positive mental health. Exercise is a wonderful stress-buster, helps clear the mind and stimulates the brain’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals.
Lastly, frequent anger can be a symptom of other emotional problems, such as depression or anxiety. It is worth seeking professional assistance to determine if there are underlying causes and to receive advice relevant to your situation.