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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Managing Anger and Emotional Stressors Could Save Your Life

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 24th 2009

 He was my uncle. He lived to be 83 years old. But, ten years prior to his death he suffered a myocardial infarction that ultimately killed. He had a hair trigger temper and was easily given to angry outbursts and expressions of outrage.

He was 62 years old and suddenly and unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Thirty years earlier his wife had given birth to a seriously disabled child who never achieved a mental age of 6 months yet was still living at home. He was a retired cop with a long history of drinking and severe emotional stress. Yet, at the time of his death everyone was shocked because all of his medical examinations were normal and everyone believed he was in good health.

All of us cope with stress on a daily basis. When the unexpected occurs the stress our bodies are hit with are severe in impact. Divorces, job loss, living through an earth quake, hurricane, war, and many other experiences, even if they occur once in a life time, exact a heavy toll on our bodies and our health.

In fact, some of us get angry at the smallest things. A traffic jam, parking ticked, the husband or wife forgetting to make a purchase, failing to stop at the grocery store and many other small life occurrences become the reason to explode into anger as though these things had some real importance. These explosions exact a toll on our bodies. That toll accumulates, along with all the other stressors. Then, one day, the "toll collector" comes by to collect and that is when we have that cardiac arrest, arrythmias, infarction, stroke, death. Everyone is shocked because they did not count these large and small and minor disasters as anything of consequence. We did not count these things with the person who has died and, worst of all, we do not keep count of our individual disasters and their impact.

"How does one keep count," I hear you ask? The answer is easy and complicated. We can keep count by finding ways to not explode into anger. We can keep count by exercising, eating right, not smoking and by engaging in meditation and deep relaxation. By "keeping count" I am really referring to learning how to reduce the impact of these things on our health.

How do I know I am correct about this? Following is a brief summary of an important piece of research. However, if you want to read a more thorough explanation then press on this URL at Medical News Today:

A new US study suggests that learning to manage your anger might save your life. The study is the work of researchers at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, and the Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven, Connecticut, and at PinMed Inc. and University of Pittsburgh, Cardiovascular Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is published in the March 3rd issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The lead author, Dr Rachel Lampert, associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine, reported that the study was important because: "We are beginning to understand how anger and other types of mental stress can trigger potentially lethal ventricular arrhythmias, especially among patients with structural heart abnormalities."

Findings from other studies show that at times of great stress, such as when there is an earthquake or war, there are more sudden cardiac deaths.

This study is the first to show that changes brought on by anger and other strong emotions can anticipate arrhythmias and link mental stress to sudden cardiac arrest.

Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart unexpectedly and suddenly stops beating, causing blood to stop flowing to the brain and other vital organs.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), every year between 250,000 and 450,000 Americans have sudden cardiac arrest. It occurs most often in people in their mid-thirties to mid-forties and appears to affect men twice as often as women.
If you have been under a lot of stress and/or if you are prone to getting very angry, it is suggested that you have a complete medical workup and consider psychotherapy. In addition, this web site has a lot of self help material that can be useful in learning how to relax and reshape your thinking and living.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

How do you tell others about it? - - Mar 2nd 2009

Sometimes people don't realize that they are stressing out on others with their stress. And if you react to them, they will further think that you are against them.

What are the ways of telling them that they could be under stress and should consult a professional about their aggressive behavior?

Shock! - pastfirst - Mar 1st 2009
A very interesting comment. I realise stress could cause different health problem. I just didn't realise how serious it could actually be!

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