Perspective

Is my anger going to kill me?

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Getting angry a lot could increase your chance of an early death, if you are a man, a new study has found

If people say that you’ve got a short fuse, you might want to calm down. Getting angry with queue jumpers, and furious in traffic jams, really may be the death of you, at least if you are a man. Research from Iowa State University published this week collected data from 1,307 men over nearly 40 years. Those in the angriest 25% had 1.57 times the risk of dying early compared to those in the least angry quartile.

Anger levels were initially measured annually between 1968 to 1972 by the simple question “Do you get angry easily?” How often the participants said yes correlated with an increased risk of dying earlier – a correlation that remained even after allowing for income, marital status and smoking, all of which affect premature mortality. The average age of the men at the start of the study was just under 30, but the effects of this anger were seen in increased risks of dying up to 35 years later. The study also teased out the effects of other personality traits thought to influence earlier deaths – higher levels of cognitive ability and “follow through” (the tendency people have to achieve things they have set their mind on) are known to be protective. However, even if people in the study had these protective characteristics, if they admitted to being quick tempered, they still increased their risk of dying.

The solution

“It’s not just about being angry occasionally for five years,” says Amelia Karraker, the lead author. “These people were likely to have been consistently angry. It’s OK to have a cross afternoon, or even a year. This question may capture not transient anger, but a predisposition to anger.” It’s not hard to imagine how being constantly angry increases heart rate and blood pressure, and over time puts pressure on the heart. A study in Circulation of a group of 3,873 men and women found that anger and hostility in men (but not women) increased their risk of atrial fibrillation – an irregular heart rhythm.

There are of course, some studies that show suppressing anger can increase blood pressure and heart disease, especially when people feel they have been treated unjustly. So is it healthy to express righteous anger? Perhaps, if it’s occasional and over quickly. Karraker says that their study did not capture any nuance about anger, and that the use of a single question has now been superseded by a more sophisticated anger scale. But getting angry is likely to cause more harm than good. It may be hard to lengthen a short fuse – there is considerable research on the genetic influences on anger – but it seems that quick tempers may hurt those who have them more than the people they get cross with. theguardian