Anxiety, Anger, and Heart Health

Is Anger a Bad Thing?

No matter who you are, where you live, or your life’s circumstances, every one of us gets angry from time to time. There is a prevailing societal belief that getting angry is a negative phenomenon, but that just is not the case. Being so angry that you cannot think clearly is most definitely maladaptive. But getting angry for example, at a young child for running into the street or becoming outraged by hate speech, is not only appropriate, but preferable. It would be a shame to think that anyone would not be infuriated by a potential fatality or the loss of societal decency.

Anger, when expressed adaptively, carefully, and as sensitively as possible, can spur social movements, positive change, and insight. When a person is frustrated or irritated enough by something they are experiencing, the hope is that their discomfort will encourage them to change and improve their current state. Individuals upset at the government can use their resentment and pain to change policies that seem unfair or unwarranted. In many ways this emotion can be a productive, life changing tool.

When Anger Turns Dark

There are times however, when anger can shift from a slow boil into a full fledged torrent of unhealthy emotion. Whether one is angry at their spouse, their coworkers, or any number of world crises, outrageous, out of control, and overwhelming rage usually serves to make the issues at hand worse. Angry outbursts do nothing to resolve the underlying issues and prove ultimately to be ineffective, inappropriate, and detrimental not only to the those exposed to the tirade, but to the person expressing it.

Left unchecked, anger breeds more anger, gives the angry person permission, if you will, to continue to express themselves in foul and perhaps physical ways, and can land them in hot water. Individuals who do not take charge of their tempers and let the opposite occur instead, risk losing all control by acting lawlessly, recklessly, and dangerously. In fact, crimes committed out of anger and in the heat of the moment can result in conviction and prison time. If unrelenting anger is expressed at work or at home, it creates a toxic and dangerous environment for everyone. Additionally, explosive expressions of anger can cause a person to lose their employment, foster dysfunctional relationships, and in extreme cases, become homeless. Anger of this magnitude can also result in devastating physical consequences, such as elevated blood pressure, chest pains, irregular heart rhythms and a host of symptoms that create the perfect storm for a heart attack or stroke.

Doesn’t Everyone Get a Little Nervous?

Just like anger, anxiety cannot be summarily dismissed as a “bad” emotion. Adaptive anxiety has been shown to promote increased productivity and to provide the impetus for change. An individual whose physician has told them they need to lose weight because they are at risk for certain diseases, might use their anxiety over their failing health to make better dietary choices. The anxiety one feels if they are walking in a dangerous neighborhood may lead them to turn onto a better lit street. In both of these cases, the anxiety experienced can lead to life saving actions.

It is when an individual feels a steady state of panic and experiences fear and apprehension in multiple settings and for long periods of time, that anxiety becomes maladaptive. Panic attacks are an example of excessive anxiety that appears untriggered and can be relentless. Sufferers of this disorder often mistake their symptoms for a heart attack, only to worry that confirmation of their anxiety is really a cover for impending death. The symptoms that make patients with panic disorder fear for their heart health include sweaty palms, increased heart rate, difficulties breathing deeply, tingly sensations of the extremities, and stomach pain. When fear and its physiological manifestations join forces, the panic and fear, triggered by something or nothing at all, cascades through the nervous system, setting up sufferers for a cyclical and emotional nightmare.

Drowning in Anxiety

While being nervous about a career move, getting married, travelling abroad, or storms on the horizon is both understandable and logical for many, feeling a constant sense of doom about these experiences can affect one’s mental, physical, and emotional health. Additionally, those with whom the anxious person lives or works may tire of reminding them that things will be OK and ultimately, leave them to their own devices. Panic disorder and related anxiety disorders can wear a person out, and that includes the one having the attacks, as well as those who live and deal with the sufferer.

If left unchecked and untreated, individuals experiencing uncontrolled panic, risk the development of distant or fractured relationships, loss of employment because they simply cannot focus on anything beyond their fears, and significantly compromised health. Therapy, exercise, and medication are all viable treatment options that have proven, amongst others, to be quite successful in alleviating symptoms of anxiety. There are those however who choose to self medicate with illicit drugs or alcohol, rather than getting bonafide treatment. These issues, coupled with the risk of heart disease due to ongoing anxiety, can set up extremely nervous patients for progressive deterioration.

Reigning in Anger, Anxiety, and Improving Your Health

Our emotions run along a continuum that can be loosely conceptualized as ‘barely there’ to ‘this is the only thing that exists.’ Neither end of the continuum is a healthy place to exist and should ideally, provide the boundaries between which we all reside. But when anger takes over and moves from being an expression of upset to self harm or harm of others, the boundaries on that continuum have been destroyed. When anxiety shifts from excitement, to nervousness, to ongoing trepidation and a refusal to leave the house or interact with others, the boundaries of that continuum have been decimated, as well. In cases where anger or anxiety become extreme, heart health risks becoming irreparably effected. And with failing heart health, comes an inability to take deep breaths which spurs anxiety and can bring on frustration, anger, and resentment. No matter how you size up the equation, longstanding, ongoing anxiety and anger contribute to compromised cardiac health.

There are a number of ways in which all of us can learn to calm down. Talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other techniques that help to reframe and restructure our thought patterns and the ways in which we conduct ourselves, can be very beneficial treatment options. Medication, massage, and acupuncture are also ways in which the mind and body can regroup and learn to focus on the present instead of the “what ifs” that plague us. Physical exercise, so long as it has been been deemed safe by your physician, can boost endorphins, also known as “happy hormones,” that can have a powerful and wonderful effect on mood regulation and behavior. Exercise can also promote heart health and significant protection of your entire well being.

Heart disease is a public health issue that affected the lives and welfare of over 600,000 individuals in the United States in 2017. Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC of Body Systems Wellness in Glendale, California has designed his practice around health management and maintenance and can help you achieve true calm and healing through any number of services he and his team provides.

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