If you’re feeling upset and angry, don’t bottle it in. For the sake of your health let it out. A recent study out of Germany has revealed that being hot-tempered and expressing your anger could be a key to enjoying a long and healthy life.
Researchers Marcus Mund and Kristin Mitte at the University of Jena in Germany claim that the latest findings may explain why the hotheaded Italians and Spanish live almost two years longer than the cool English who “keep calm and carry on”. They found that exhibiting self-restraint and holding back negative emotions could have serious repercussions for a person’s physical and mental well-being.
After analyzing more than 6,000 patients, Mund and Mitte found that people who internalized their anxiety suffered from an elevated pulse. Researchers say that over time, raised pulse can result in high blood pressure and increase a person’s risk of developing a wide range of conditions from heart disease to cancer, kidney damage and more.
The new study, published in the journal Health Psychologies, reveals that a group of so-called “repressors” are particularly at risk. “These people are distinguished by the way that they attempt to conceal outward signs of fear, and also by their defensive behavior,” said Mund. “They avoid risks and always seek a high level of control over themselves and their surroundings,” he explained. ”For instance, when exposed to a stressful task they exhibit a higher heart rate and pulse ratio than non-repressors and show other objective signs of stress and anxiety.”
The news may be particularly noteworthy to women, who, as a rule, are taught by society to repress their anger. “Women get the message that expressing their anger is ugly, that they are unattractive and sexually unappealing—and threatening,” notes Deborah Cox, a Springfield, Missouri-based psychologist. Though there are plenty of “angry femme” movie characters, Cox adds—fierce women who wield weapons while wearing stilettos—our culture still lacks “strong role models, where a woman makes herself vulnerable by saying, ‘I am so angry, I can’t believe you did this.’”
In her research with co-authors Karin Bruckner and Sally Stabb, Cox found that women who held in their rage suffered from a high rate of headaches and stomachaches. Those who were more conscious of their anger and who talked about it, on the other hand, felt better about themselves, and also did things that they were afraid to do, whether changing careers or buying a home.
“There’s a huge difference in the way women express and suppress,” she adds. “Some take it and take it, until one day they lose it. They tend to do and say things they regret, and feel horrible shame about it later.”
It’s not all bad news for those who hold back their anger trying to stay calm and collected. Researchers found that while “repressors” are at risk for developing certain illnesses, they have faster rates of recovering from a range of conditions because they are more disciplined and more motivated to adapt their lifestyles. “Because of their need for control, repressors are very disciplined and more motivated to adapt their lifestyles,” Mund explained.
The key is to not repress your emotions but learn to express them in a healthy and constructive manner. “There is a difference between healthy and unhealthy venting, as not all expressions of anger are positive, or good for you,” says anger management expert Shannon Munford. ”You can express your anger in a way that does lead to heart disease,” Munford notes. ”Expression of anger in any type of volatile way—screaming, destroying property—that type of anger doesn’t help anybody.”