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Healthy Anger: Let It Out or Keep It In?

© David S. Sobel MD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Body Health by David S. Sobel MD. View all columns in series
When it comes to health, the best thing is not to get angry in the first place. Once triggered, however, is it better to argue, shout, and bang your fists - or silently seethe? Some research suggests outwardly expressing anger only increases angry feelings and may lead to future heart disease. But holding anger inside is also associated with increased risk of heart disease. So what should you do?

New research suggests the answer: stay flexible. In a recent study, 116 healthy men were surveyed to determine their usual style of coping with angry feelings. Men who were at either extreme -almost always holding their anger in or almost always expressing their anger outwardly - had significantly higher total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol levels than men who were flexible in dealing with anger.

The health damaging effects of anger expression may be more due to rigidity, not being able to adapt to changing situations. The healthy approach appears to be staying flexible - changing your behavior based on needs and circumstances. Sometimes it may be healthy to express anger and let off steam - preferably in a direct, nonviolent, assertive manner. In other circumstances, holding it in may be safer and less damaging to your relationships as well as your heart.

For More Information:
Engebretson TO, Stoney CM: Anger expression and lipid concentrations.

International Journal of Behavioral Medicine 1995;2(4):281-298.

Mental Medicine Update, Vol. IV, No. 3. This previous issue of what is now The Mind/Body Health Newsletter explores the importance of defusing anger and hostility.


Excerpted with permission from the Quarterly Newsletter, Mind/Body Health Newsletter. For subscription information call 1-(800)-222-4745 or visit the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge website.

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About The Author
David S. Sobel, M.D., M.P.H., is a practicing physician in adult medicine and Medical Director of Patient Education and Health Promotion for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. He is physician lead for the national initiative in Self-Care and Shared Decision-Making for Kaiser Permanente. He is coauthor of Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, The Healing Brain,......more
 
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