Ask The Doctor

Be Happy! It’s the Best Medicine

My husband is great in every way except for one thing – he has the worst temper. He rarely can take a 30-minute drive without shouting at someone.
He has little patience while helping the children do their homework.
When he gets angry, his face turns red and you can see the veins on his forehead.
He hasn’t gone to the doctor in a while, but I fear he may have high blood pressure.
Does anger have a bad effect on the body? What can I do to change his behavior?
Anxious Wife with
Angry Husband

Dear Anxious Wife,
I am very glad you asked this question, because your fears are well founded. Anger is very harmful to one’s health. On the other hand, happy and calm people have a significantly decreased risk for heart attacks and strokes.
When one becomes angry the body undergoes serious changes.  Blood pressure goes up. The blood becomes stickier and can form clots. Plaque can build up inside the walls of the arteries causing lack of oxygen to the heart and other vital structures.
Interesting studies have been reported which provide scientific basis to the problem.
A major study from Harvard Medical School demonstrated that the angriest men were three times more likely to develop heart disease than calm men. In another study, over 1,000 medical students were followed for 36 years and it was found that the “hotheads” were six times more likely to suffer heart attacks by age 55.
Another major study from Israel demonstrated a 14-fold increase in risk of stroke within two hours of an angry emotional incident. Finally, a study of patients treated in the emergency rooms of Missouri hospitals, showed that out of 2,500 patients treated, about 500 of them were torn by anger just before injury. The greater the anger, the higher the risk.
There are some things he can do, short of seeing a psychiatrist. Here is a brief guide which may help control his anger. They may seem simplistic, but will help him to focus on his problem and think about the harm he is causing his body. Some studies suggest the risk to heart disease from anger is equivalent to the risk from smoking.
• Identify the things that bother him the most and try to change them. Help him learn to recognize the warning signs of building tension, such as fast pulse, fast breathing or a restless feeling. Simply taking a walk or counting to 10 before reacting might help.
• He should talk about his feelings with you, and even write down things that bother him and try to figure out why they anger him so much.
• He should learn to mediate, or do deep breathing exercises. Practice smiling. (We will talk about that one a little later.)
• Don’t curse or clench your teeth, or always try to have the last word.
• If the above don’t work, then it is imperative he either see a physiatrist or psychologist. This is not a luxury, but critical to his health.
On the other hand, a study found that being happy or optimistic was a risk-reducing factor for heart disease. There was actually at least a 22% decrease in heart attacks for people who looked on the bright side of things and classified themselves as being happy.
Another finding is that we don’t laugh as much as we did in the past. In the 1950s we used to laugh about 50 times a day. We are now down to fewer than 15 times a day. Children continue to laugh about 400 times a day, essentially unchanged from the 1950s.
Smiling and laughter is contagious and can be good for those around you.
Unfortunately, people smile at work or home only about 10-15 times a day. The effects of smiling can be very positive, even if you smile when you are not quite that happy (fake it).
The smile and laughter helps to reduce stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which are harmful to the body in excess amounts. It also helps people to relax and actually improve their performance at work.[hr] Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on The NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 97 Time Warner and Channel 30 Cablevision.

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