Dear Dr. Garner,
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.
When he gets angry, his face turns red, and you can see the veins on his forehead.
I am concerned that he is harming his body. He hasn’t gone to the doctor in a while, but I fear he may have high blood pressure as we once tested it in a drug store and it was high.
Does anger have a bad effect on the body? What can I do to change his behavior?
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.
Some interesting studies have been reported that 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.
I hope your husband thinks about this the next time someone cuts him off in traffic.
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. Learn to recognize the warning signs of building tension, such as fast pulse, fast breathing or a restless feeling. Something as simple as 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
• He should learn to meditate or do deep breathing exercises. Practice smiling.
• 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 see either a psychiatrist or psychologist. This is not a luxury but critical to his health.
On the other hand, another study found that being happy or optimistic was a risk-reducing factor for heart disease. There was actually at least a 22 percent 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 used to. 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.