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Anger & Your Health: MLK’s Inspiration

| January 18, 2016, 07:11 AM

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Dr. Martin Luther King‘s birthday on January 15 is an excellent time to reflect on anger and how it may impact your health. Dr. King said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Dr. King, one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history, recognized that to be “consumed” by anger was toxic. 

“Anger floods our bodies with adrenaline and cortisol,” Dr. Michael Freedman of Evolve Medical Clinics notes, “which has immediate and chronic effects on our bodies.” 

In fact, a large study looked of 12,986 people found angrier people suffered from more heart disease. And the angriest people faced roughly 3 times the risk of heart attack. “Once people are chronically angry, men and women seem to be at equally high risk,” according to Laura Kubzansky, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who has studied the role of stress and emotion on cardiovascular disease.

A study published in 2002 demonstrated that those who anger quickly were 3 times more likely to develop heart disease and 5 times more likely to have a heart attack. Hot tempers, pointed out the authors, predicted heart disease even before such traditional risk factors as diabetes and hypertension.

Quotes about anger and health

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” –Mark Twain

“Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before – it takes something from him.”–Louis L’Amour

“Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.”–Mitch Albom

What Can Be Done?

According to Dr. Kubzansky at Harvard, “We know that anxious, depressed, angry people are more likely to smoke, less likely to engage in physical activity, have poor nutritional habits and drink to excess.” 

“If you mismanage anger, it’s going to isolate you from others. The likelihood increases that you’ll get depressed, and…increase anxiety and worry,” says Wayne Sotile, Phd, Director of Wake Forest University Healthy Exercise and Lifestyle Programs

Dr. Wayne Sotile, the director of psychological services for the Wake Forest University Healthy Exercise and Lifestyle Programs, says the best way to combat feelings of anger is to “remind yourself that others are usually doing their best.”

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.”
  • “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.”
  • “Let me ask, rather than tell.”
  • “I’ll listen rather than talk.”

If that isn’t working, “Physical activity is an excellent way to reduce your heart disease risk because it reduces stress, anger, hostility,” according to Rita Redberg, MD, MSc, a professor and director of Women’s Cardiovascular Services at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

Dr. Freedman, who founded Evolve Medical Clinics, added, “The time has come for physicians take care of the whole person, including their moods and emotions. Wellness can’t be addressed without mental and spiritual wellbeing.

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying, “It is not that I do not get angry. I don’t give vent to my anger. I cultivate the quality of patience as angerlessness, and generally speaking, I succeed. But I only control my anger when it comes. How I find it possible to control it would be a useless question, for it is a habit that everyone must cultivate and must succeed in forming by constant practice.”

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