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April 11, 2015
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This dual-research summary suggests
that intense anger or depression can damage your heart and your health.
Chronic and/or intense emotions like these may be caused by psychological wounds
from early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse ("trauma").
in this nonprofit Web site is about detecting and reducing such wounds. The
whole Web site is about preventing them.
See my comments after the
article. The links and hilights below
We all know that emotions originate in
the brain. But we usually talk about our emotions coming from our
hearts. If someone you know doesn't give up easily, you might say, "He's
got a lot of heart." Not every culture would agree - for instance, when
Italians want to say someone has heart, they say instead, "Ha fegato":
"He has liver."
But what about bad emotions? When you feel so sad or so angry that your
heart "aches," could it actually be true? Two new studies add support to
the theory that, yes, what goes on in your mind can, literally, break
your heart. (Read "Giving the Finger: This Hurts Me More Than You.")
In the first study, just published in the Journal of the American
College of Cardiology (J.A.C.C.) a team of eight researchers looking at
more than 63,000 women who were participants in the ongoing Nurses'
Health Study, found that those
who reported basic symptoms of depression (like feeling down and
incapable of happiness) had a
higher-than-normal risk of coronary heart disease.
women who were clinically
depressed were more than twice as likely as other women to suffer sudden
cardiac death. None of the participants had heart problems at the
study's outset, but nearly 8% had symptoms of depression.
The researchers theorize that
depression might have some direct physiological impact on the heart -
like causing it to work harder in the face of stress. The study
also found that the more depressed women were, the more likely they were
to smoke cigarettes or have high blood pressure and diabetes - not
exactly heart-healthy conditions.
Or it may be that the anti-depressants
prescribed to treat those with mood problems were associated with heart
ailments; in the study, sudden
cardiac death was linked more strongly with antidepressant use than with
women's symptoms of depression.
The antidepressant theory is just that - a theory. It could be that the
antidepressant takers in the study were simply the most depressed. But
if the theory is substantiated by further research, it would add to a
growing body of evidence suggesting that anti-depressants carry a high
risk (particularly for teen-agers) when weighed against the drugs' still
uncertain benefits. Scientists have already shown that antidepressants
are a bad idea for those about to undergo coronary artery bypass
No one is sure exactly how depression hurts the heart, and one plausible
explanation is that the train runs in the opposite direction - a damaged
heart and its consequent stress on the body might activate, somehow,
genes or other physiological changes that contribute to depression.
But another new paper, also
published in the J.A.C.C., lends credence to the idea that it is our moods that work on our
hearts and not the other way around. In this paper, researchers
from University College London reviewed the findings of 39 previously
published articles and found that
men who are angry and hostile
are significantly more likely to have a cardiac event than those who
That may sound unsurprising - we all
know that anger can stress your heart. But it's important to note the
difference between aggression and just being aggressive. Previous
studies (here's one) have found that so-called type A's - those who are
driven, competitive and obsessed with deadlines - are not more likely
to experience heart disease.
In other words, your type A co-workers
who are annoyingly ambitious and dutiful are no more likely to have a
heart attack than you are. Rather, it's the seething, angry types with
underlying hostility who are the ticking time bombs.
Anger, it turns out, is
The authors of the second paper offer the standard theories about how an
angry emotion translates to a physical heart attack:
angry people have a harder time
sleeping; they take prescribed drugs less often; they eat worse,
exercise less, smoke more and are fatter.
These things add up: compared with the
good-humored, those who were angry and hostile - but had no signs of
heart problems at the outset - ended up with a 19% higher risk of
developing coronary heart disease, according to the University College
The two studies reify gender stereotypes: women get their hearts broken
through sadness; men "break" their hearts (via heart attack) through
anger. But both studies suggest that men and women have a common
interest in understanding that some causes of cardiac disease - poor
diet or lack of exercise or bad sleep habits - may have a precipitating
cause themselves. Whether male
or female, letting yourself get overwhelmed by emotion can damage not
only your mind but also that crucial organ, the heart.
article is instructive for several reasons. One is the author's dubbing
emotions like anger and depression "bad." This superficial opinion blocks
readers' awareness that all
emotions are healthy pointers to
The researchers and author also routinely use the term "depression" without
noting that the same symptoms may indicate normal or blocked grief.
The second research team and the author also fail to note the similarity
between anger and frustration. Both feel the same and may
evoke similar behavior - but they have different causes. These illustrate
popular media's promoting public
unawareness on key topics.
Note that significant anger is also a sign of normal grief. Our
pleasure-oriented society generally minimizes healthy mourning, and ignores
mourning basics. To see if this describes you, try this
quiz. Then study
on behalf of any youngsters in your life
Regardless, these two studies suggest that
"significant" depression in women
and angry hostility in men can cause risk of cardiac disease and sudden
death. Like many such studies, these two apparently make no attempt
to learn thecauses of depression or angry hostility, which are the
My clinical experience since 1979
suggests that chronic or excessive emotions are often symptoms of
significant childhood abandonment, neglect, And abuse ("trauma") - i.e. being raised in a
low-nurturance environment by
wounded, unaware caregivers.
Other symptoms are "a poor diet or lack of
exercise or bad sleep habits" (self neglect).
That comes from our society's not alerting
courting couples to potentially unwise mate-commitments and unqualified
child conception. That comes from public unawareness of the lethal [wounds + unawareness)
cycle. This Web site exists to promote
awareness of the cycle and it's
effects, and to motivate people like you to
break the cycle! .
last sentence illustrates a common lay and media misperception: that average
people can intentionally prevent themselves from "being overwhelmed by
emotion" without training, awareness, and self-discipline. They usually
can't, because they're unaware of being controlled by a well-intentioned