The importance of learning to manage anger and stress during divorce.
Recently, I was emailed a moving letter from a father in my online anger management class…
‘Dear Dr. Schinnerer:
I want to let you know that your online anger management class has been very helpful. The tools you teach are working. I am in the midst of an ugly divorce. While my (ex) wife continues to behave in difficult and anger-inducing ways, I am getting better and better at forgiving her and letting my own anger go. My children have seen a big improvement in my anger and have told the court they would like to spend more time with me. I want to be a better father. I want to be healthier. Last year, I had a massive heart attack. It was scary as hell. I thought I was a goner. Your anger class has shown me that much of my health issues were due to excessive anger. Before my heart attack, I had no idea that anger could lead to physical issues! I was great at blaming others for my anger. Now, I have done a 180 and am taking responsibilty for how I feel. Thanks to you, I’ve realized that anger can hurt my heart as well as damage my relationships. I have also learned ways to become happier. Thank you for teaching me new ways of dealing with anger.’
I often emphasize just how damaging chronic, long-term anger is on the heart. The same is true for long-term stress. Chronic stress and anger hurt your brain, your heart and your lungs (among other things). So it is important to learn new ways to handle them more effectively.
The Connection Between Anger and Heart Disease
In a recent study in the American Academy of Family Physicians, researchers concluded that men and women with high levels of chronic anger and stress are at much higher risk of heart disease. The study found men with high levels of chronic anger were over one and half times as likely to develop high blood pressure. Individuals with frequent, high intensity anger were 90% more likely to progress from prehypertension to coronary heart disease when compared to people with lower intensity anger.
The Connection Between Heart Disease and Stress
Both men and women with long-standing levels of stress had more than 1.5 times the chance of developing heart disease as compared to others with low to moderate levels of stress. This means people with high levels of chronic stress are almost twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease. Yet, these issues are totally preventable – all that needs to be done is learn new ways of relating to and managing stress. The authors of the study state that quality stress management and anger management classes are tremendously helpful to reduce stres and anger and ultimately, prevent the unnecessary progression to coronary heart disease.
The Major Negative Emotions Are Linked to Heart Disease
Three negative emotions – depression, anxiety and anger – were all linked to coronary heart disease in a recent study published in the Psychological Bulletin. These findings indicate that it is more of a general disposition towards negative emotions that may be more critical for the risk of heart disease than any one specific emotion. Prevention is key. Learning new ways to turn down the intensity and frequency of anger and stress is paramount.
A Predisposition to Negative Emotions
Work by Richard Davidson at University of Wisconsin has shown that one of our main brain circuits determines how quickly we recover from negative emotions. Rarely do I work with someone who is only angry, or solely anxious, or only depressed. More often, such individuals have a hard time bouncing back from all the major negative emotions (e.g. anger, sadness and anxiety) due to the way in which this brain circuit works in them. While this is not their fault, it is a necessary life lesson to learn tools to manage these emotions for the good of their health and the happiness of their loved ones.
Inevitably, people will begin to learn that a predisposition towards negative emotions (e.g. hostility, anger, anxiety and depression) harms the heart. By learning high quality stress management techniques and anger management tools, this risk can be greatly reduced.