Chronic anger causes stress hormones to rise and can spark inflammation in your body. That’s why, feeling angry all the time, it could be making you sick.
Feeling mad about something, or someone, is part of life. And, if handled appropriately, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The American Psychological Association (APA) notes it can be beneficial to express your negative feelings, especially if you become motivated to solve a dispute or other problem. However, if you are angry all the time, it could be making you sick.
Holding in anger or blowing up regularly at people and circumstances can cause physical problems. For example, your body pumps out stress hormones when you are angry, raising blood pressure. If your ire doesn’t pass quickly, the result can be hypertension, headaches, and gastrointestinal upset.
What’s more, researchers have sounded additional warnings. It turns out, if you are angry all the time, it could be making you sick in ways you might not connect with emotions ― including an increase in physical pain and more disease-linked inflammation in your body.
The anger and pain connection
Studies have shown chronic anger is associated with more intense and longer lasting tension-type and migraine headaches. Rush University Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University researchers found when patients with low back pain were angry but didn’t express their feelings, their pain intensity increased.
If you have a painful chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis, it’s not unusual to assume feelings of sadness and even anger are the result of experiencing frequent pain. However, your emotional state could be worsening your health condition.
It’s understandable you might feel angry you have to spend so much time with doctor appointments and are unable to participate in certain activities you enjoyed before arthritis developed. But researchers from Pennsylvania State University found negative emotions, like chronic anger, are physiological stressors that can worsen rheumatoid arthritis pain.
The study linked higher reported anger in rheumatoid arthritis patients with increased levels of the circulating inflammatory biomarker interleukin (IL)-6 and the stress hormone cortisol, physiological changes that could cause or contribute to painful rheumatoid arthritis flares.
Anger is especially dangerous as we age
If you are angry all the time, it could be making you sick by raising your risk for several serious diseases, especially if you are angry as a senior citizen.
Inflammation is a crucial part of the immune system’s response to an infection, cut, or other injury. As you heal, the inflammatory response normally calms down and dissipates. But if chronic inflammation develops in your body, the odds of developing cardiovascular disease, cancer, and arthritis increase.
A research team headed by Concordia University psychologist Meaghan A. Barlow, PhD, collected health data and emotional information from 226 older adults ages 59 to 93, to see if there was a connection between emotional states and chronic inflammation.
The research subjects filled out questionnaires about their emotions and moods, and lab tests documented markers of inflammation in their blood. The results of the study showed feeling sad or depressed was not related to an increased inflammation level, but feeling angry every day was associated with abnormally high levels of inflammation, especially in the oldest research subjects (those 80 and above).
Bottom line? Get anger under control for your health’s sake
Whatever your age or health status, recognizing you have ongoing problems with anger is the first step to improving your emotional and physical health.
Strategies for releasing and dealing with anger and stress from the APA include:
- Build strong relationships. Negative and hostile interactions with your spouse or boss causes immediate changes in stress hormones. Reach out to family members or close friends for support and you may get a new perspective on what’s bothering you.
- Walk away when you're angry. It sounds simplistic, but it works: Before reacting in anger to a person or situation, regroup by taking a deep breath and counting to 10. Walking or other exercise will increase feel-good endorphins and can help change your angry mood, too.
- Angry a lot? Rest your mind and de-stress. Research shows that activities like yoga and relaxation exercises not only help reduce stress but also boost healthy immune functioning.
- Get help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, ask your doctor to recommend a therapist or other mental health professional who can help you identify situations or behaviors that contribute to your chronic anger and stress and help you develop an action plan for changing them.
April 01, 2020
Janet O’Dell RN