It won’t come as news to readers of this blog, but the therapy culture nostrum of expressing your feelings is not a panacea. When applied to anger it is a nostrum; that is, it can be harmful to your health..
Reuters reports on the latest research:
Bottling up emotions is thought to harm both mind and body, but a new study suggests that the opposite extreme may be no better.
In a study of thousands of heart attack patients, those who recalled having flown into a rage during the previous year were more than twice as likely to have had their heart attack within two hours of that episode, compared to other times during the year.
Of course, there are different ways to express anger. A cold stare is not the same as a raging tantrum. And yet, when the culture tells people that they should not bottle up their anger it is suggesting that it is beneficial to fly into a rage.
In truth, expressing anger too strongly can be bad for your health:
Although the research cannot prove that the angry outbursts led to the heart attacks, the results "make sense," according to Dr. James O'Keefe Jr, a cardiologist at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City who wasn't involved in the research.
Anger is an emotion that releases the fight-or-flight-response chemicals epinephrine and norepinephrine, he said.
Those hormones raise our blood pressure, our pulse, constrict blood vessels, make blood platelets stickier (increasing the risk of blood clots), which O'Keefe says could be one way anger may be associated with increased heart risk.
"Contrary to the urban myth that it's best to express anger and get it out there, expressing anger takes a toll on your system and there's nothing really cathartic about it," O'Keefe told Reuters Health.
"(Anger) serves no purpose other than to corrode the short and long-term health of your heart and blood vessels," he said.
Science has now shown that expressing anger is not cathartic. The next time you are tempted to let loose at someone, take a deep breath, go for a run and think again.