How Does Anger Affect The Immune System?
Anger isn’t a comfortable emotion, though it’s one everyone experiences at some time or another. But when it comes to your health, there is more to anger than many people realize. The connection between emotional health and physical health has been studied extensively, and research has made it clear that how you feel, what you experience, and how you cope with the stresses of life emotionally all play a role in how physically well you are, both now and into your future.
From chronic disease to early mortality, negative emotions can contribute to health outcomes and are considered one of the most important preventative factors for ill health. So do different emotions affect your health in contrasting ways? They absolutely do. But where does anger stand when it comes to your health? How does anger affect the immune system, and can it cause lowered immunity or even malfunction? Read on for all you need to know.
How does anger affect your health?
For humans, anger is an unavoidable (and normal!) emotion. Not everything will come up roses for you at all points of your life, and when things go south, anger is one of the feelings you may experience. However, when a person is quick to anger or spends a lot of time in an angry headspace, the feeling can actually hinder various aspects of physical health.
Firstly, anger can increase your risk for a myriad of chronic diseases. The most physically damaging aspect of anger has to do with your cardiac health. Research has shown that even small bouts of anger lasting up to two hours can increase the risk of someone having a heart attack two-fold.
Repressed anger has also been closely associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Along with heart disease, anger, especially the type that results in screaming matches, can make you three times more likely to have a stroke and six times more likely to have an aneurysm.
Anger is also closely tied to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Anger can make symptoms of anxiety worse, and people who have generalized anxiety disorder are also more likely to be more hostile and deal with repressed feelings of anger. That same type of repressed anger is also strongly linked with depression.
Lung function can also be negatively affected if you experience perpetual anger. Lastly, the feeling has been correlated with early mortality; people who are angry more often and have elevated levels of stress are shown to have shorter lifespans than their more relaxed or happy counterparts.
Can emotions affect your immune system?
Emotions, both positive and negative, can affect the way the immune system functions. In terms of positive emotions, happiness and an overall sense of wellbeing have been shown to improve how the body responds to pathogenic threats, and to enhance the body’s ability to fight off illnesses and chronic disease. Research has found that happy emotions lead to physiological changes that enhance immune cells and reduce inflammation.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, negative emotions can also have a negative effect on how the immune system functions. When a person feels constantly sad, depressed, helpless, or hopeless, they are more likely to be chronically stressed. In acute stress situations, certain signals are sent out that are designed to prepare the body for an impending threat or injury.
When stress is felt much of the time, those threat responses are actually firing constantly. This can lead to chronic inflammation, in turn causing the immune system to become dysregulated and unable to function at its best.
Can anger weaken the immune system?
Feeling angry can negatively impact your immune health in a variety of ways. One such way is anger can actually increase levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines – molecules that help the immune system. When there is no pathogen to fight off, a release of these cytokines is not good for the system, because it causes inflammation where none is needed.
Research has found that a person doesn’t even have to be in the midst of an angry situation for their immune system to suffer. In fact, one study asked people to recall a time where they were angry, and simply remembering the feelings of anger and the difficult situation was enough to disrupt the function of the immune system.
According to the American Psychological Association, any kind of stress weakens the immune system, and that includes anger. Whether a person is only angry on occasion, or chronically mad at various things they can’t control or hardships they have to endure, they are significantly decreasing their ability to fight off infections and chronic disease.
While this sounds like terrible news (which may cause feelings of anger in and of itself!), the best thing you can do with this knowledge is learn how to cope with anger more effectively. It’s not reasonable or realistic to try to be happy all the time, but you can learn different strategies to lessen the impact of anger on your health if you feel your levels of anger and stress are too high.