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Heart Disease Health Center

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Rein In the Rage: Anger and Heart Disease

Experts explore the connection between anger and heart disease, and give tips for getting your anger under control.

Anger and Heart Disease: How to Get Anger Under Control

Anger is intertwined with other problems that may end up harming the heart, says psychologist Wayne Sotile, PhD. "If you mismanage anger, it's going to compromise your most intimate relationships," he says. "It's going to isolate you from others. The likelihood increases that you'll get depressed, and you're going to cause problems in your life that increase anxiety and worry."

Sotile is director of psychological services for the Wake Forest University Healthy Exercise and Lifestyle Programs and a special consultant in behavioral health for the Center for Cardiovascular Health at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.

Counseling and anger management classes can help the chronically angry to get their deep-seated emotions under control. But you can take more immediate steps, too, experts say.

First, when you feel the heat rising, figure out how to calm yourself. "You do this by learning to recognize the signs that your fuse has been lit and stamping it out before you explode," Sotile writes in his book, Thriving with Heart Disease.

For example, some experts recommend taking a time out by counting to 10 before responding or by walking away from the situation.

Countering angry thoughts helps, too, Sotile says. "When you're angry, remind yourself that others are usually doing their best. No one sets out in the morning with the mission to infuriate you."

He suggests that people keep in mind these "coping statements" to help them get a grip and avoid blasting someone:

  • "I can't accomplish anything by blaming other people, even if they are responsible for the problem. I'll try another angle."
  • "Will this matter five years from now? (Five hours? Five minutes?)"
  • "If I'm still angry about this tomorrow, I'll deal with it then. But for now, I'm just going to cool off."
  • "Acting angry is not the same as showing that I care."
  • "Let me ask, rather than tell."
  • "I'll listen rather than talk."
  • "The fastest way is not necessarily the best way except in a life-or-death situation, and this is not one of them."

Last, regular exercise provides an outlet for stress and anger, and it cuts heart disease risk in other ways, too, says Rita Redberg, MD, MSc, a professor and director of Women's Cardiovascular Services at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. "Physical activity is an excellent way to reduce your heart disease risk because it reduces stress, anger, hostility. It also reduces your blood pressure and raises your good cholesterol and lowers your weight."

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Reviewed on February 13, 2007

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