Researchers from Iowa State University, United States (U.S.), found that angry men aged 20 to 40 were one-and-a-half times more likely to be dead 35 years later than those who were calmer.
Scientists believe this is due to a number of factors linking stress to physiological damage. The frequent release of adrenaline during periods of stress damages Deoxy ribo-Nucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material, which could lead to life-threatening illnesses such as multiple sclerosis.
Feelings of anger produce a heightened response in the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with survival instincts. Angry emotions prompt the amygdala to signal a heightened state of anxiety to the rest of the brain and the body, increasing blood flow to the limbs and heart, which makes relaxation almost impossible.
Those exposed to anger-inducing stimuli – without discussing how it made them feel – are more likely to experience insomnia than those who engage in an emotional ‘debrief’, according to neuroscientists at the University of Massachusetts.
“Writing down the cause of your anger frees up the space in your head, dampening the fear response and encouraging relaxation,” says Mike Fisher, director of the British Association of Anger Management.
Emotions such as excitement or anger result in the release of stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and testosterone, which put the body into flight-or-flight mode.
The chemical surge increases blood flow to the brain and triggers the swelling of both blood vessels and nerves surrounding the brain.
The pressure can result in tension and headaches. A study of 422 healthy adults found that chronic headache sufferers scored significantly higher on a ‘trait anger scale’.
Those of a hostile nature experience reduced functioning of the respiratory system, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found.
Studies looking into the lung function of more than 2,000 men, over an eight-year period, observed that highly hostile individuals performed significantly worse on a simple inhalation task than those who were rated less hostile.
When we feel angry, neurotransmitters and hormones are sent through the bloodstream which, in turn, increase both the heart rate and muscle tension. This is the body’s state of alert.
Frequent occurrence of this reaction puts a strain on neurons in the hypothalamus, the brain’s ‘stress control centre’, meaning that it becomes harder for the neurons to switch off. And the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin is significantly depleted in some aggressive individuals.
Too much cortisol in the body – released by adrenal glands during angry outbursts – can cause an imbalance in blood sugar, repress the thyroid and even decrease bone density, according to researchers at Southampton University.
When released initially, cortisol triggers an anti-inflammatory response by the immune system, but prolonged increase of the hormone makes the body more susceptible to viruses.
As blood pressure rises thanks to a surge in adrenaline, the heart beats faster, increasing the risk of potentially fatal abnormal heart rhythms. Adrenaline also signals for the release of platelets, which can trigger blood clots or block arteries – particularly dangerous if arteries are restricted by a build-up of cholesterol.
Studies have shown that men in particular who score highly on trait anger scales are three times more likely to suffer from general heart disease, according to Harvard University scientists.
Once the ‘fight or flight’ signal has been issued by the brain, blood supply is directed to areas needed for action such as the limbs. That means blood supply to the digestive system is reduced, with a reduced amount of oxygen provided to keep vital ‘good’ bacteria in your gut alive.
A dampened immune system can lead to a weakened gut lining, increasing vulnerability to harmful bacteria entering the area, according to experts at the University of California.
Brazilian scientists have shown that heightened stress reduces the amount of available glucocorticoids – the hormone involved in the synthesis of the skin-plumping compound collagen.
A lack of collagen contributes towards saggy, wrinkled skin. What’s more, the weakened immune system caused by stress responses increases inflammatory reactions to pathogens underneath the skin.
Dermatologists at the University of Rochester say enhanced periods of anger disrupt the skin-barrier function, making it easier for allergens to penetrate and resulting in skin conditions such as dermatitis and psoriasis.
Repressing, rather than expressing, anger puts you at an even higher risk of developing health problems. A University of Chicago analysis reported a particularly increased risk of hypertension for angry individuals who tended to keep their anger ‘below a level of consciousness’.
So-called ‘repressers’ experience a pronounced surge in blood pressure when performing a stressful written test, according to studies involving 120 aerospace employees by University of Stanford psychologists.
Experts say that by repressing emotion, excess stress hormones remain in the emotion-processing areas of the brain for longer, meaning that physical reactions become chronic.