Can anger ruin your stroke?

This article is not about sport although may be that there is an article to be written about golf, cricket and any other sport that requires you to have a stroke.

The witty pun style title for the article is a reference to research that recently emerged from the University Hospital in Madrid that shows long term stress combined with other factors can dramatically increase the chances of suffering a stroke. One of the factors analysed is to have a” Type A” personality characterised by hostility, aggression, impatience and a quick temper, thus my interest.

So let’s examine this further by looking at stress first. Stress has long been associated with stroke victims more as an observation and a link but not necessarily with the medical link proven. Stress is linked directly to our fight, flight or freeze mechanism which is housed in the part of our brains called the Amygdala. When we evolved into humans this part of the brain stayed with us from millions of years earlier and protected us from risk. It was vital to the caveman inside us who needed to be able to react quickly to hostile risk quickly just to be able to survive. When we saw that Sabre Toothed Tiger we needed to decide whether we would fight, run or stay still hoping he would miss us. We needed to make that decision quickly. The risks we faced were life threatening and often involved injury so our bodies evolved defences. In this case we evolved production of two key hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline speeds up my processing and muscle responses. This is key to an athletes’ performance. Cortisol is the body’s natural pain killer and enables us to fight on despite being wounded.

This is all very well when I regularly encounter these types of risk. Fast forward our development as humans to today and we rarely, if ever, encounter life threatening risks but out mental, emotional and physical support systems are still finely tuned to deal with this. What happens instead is that our fight, flight or freeze system gets triggered by different risks now such as change, relationship failure, work related risks. The fear that helped us when we lived in caves does not necessarily help us now but it gets triggered very easily.

What’s the link to strokes? Adrenalin alters the way blood clots. This makes sense that as a wild animal takes chunks out of me during a fight, I need a mechanism to slow down my loss of blood. This same mechanism works against me if I am unfit, overweight, and my heart is already under pressure. It does not need the added challenge of coping with blood that clots easier than it did when I was relaxed.

Personality types and anger

There has long been identified the type A and B personality since the 1950s and it is a very broad brush approach to characterisation and understanding of personality types. These days Jungian psychology based profiling systems divide us into 4 and sub divide into many more personality types. The crux of this and the flaw in the research coming out of Madrid is that they identified type A as higher risk and identify it with the aggressive and hostile tendencies. What they fail to recognise is that anger gets experienced by all personality types and unless dealt with in a healthy way its effects are felt by all. It’s just the type A personality that shows it and is easy to point the finger at. The type B personality is often characterised as laid back, relaxed and non competitive. This does not mean they do not get angry. They just don’t show it.

Anger is both externalised and internalised. It gets thrown out in an instant or held onto for years. Neither is healthy and both ways involve adrenaline, cortisol, and everything described above. All of our experience in this field tells us that the health effects of internalised anger are as bad if not worse than the externalised type.

So where does this leave us? It leaves me at risk of sounding smug and self satisfied because when we work with individuals, groups and organisations we focus on stress and the causes of anger. Crucially we focus on what they teach us about ourselves and how we can reposition our relationship with the factors that are impacting us unhealthily.

The study went on to examine factors such as smoking, drinking and consuming high energy drinks. These are all additional factors which just go to show that dealing with our health and wellbeing is all parts of our physical, mental and emotional whole. In my experience if we start with the emotional and mental issues then the physical changes follow, because we are often compensating for mental and emotional pain with physical stimuli such as food, drug, or alcohol addictions.

If you are reading this as a concerned partner of an angry person or as the person concerned about their own anger the message is the same. If you read this as an employer who is concerned about their employee’s health and well being the message is the same. Take steps to deal with stress and internalised and externalised conflict and you will take large steps towards a healthier and happier life.

To find out more call 07850614042 and ask for Julian 07950344658 and ask for Paula.

Want to know more about the anger management, stress management, and emotional resilience courses run in Derby & Birmingham call the above numbers or click here

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