It might not be that stress is the biggest threat when it comes to good health. It may be that anger and hostility are far more harmful — especially when it comes to the heart.
A study performed this month at the National Institute for Aging has found that hostile people, especially those who are manipulative and aggressive, may be paying a price in terms of heart health.
For the study, a research team collected data on more than 5,600 people in four villages in Sardinia, Italy. The researchers found that those who had high scores for antagonistic traits had more thickening of the neck (carotid) arteries, compared with more agreeable people. Thickness of carotid artery walls is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
After three years, the research team noted that people who scored higher on antagonism or low on agreeableness, particularly those who were manipulative and quick to anger, continued to have thickening of their artery walls.
How much higher was the risk for angry people? People who scored in the lowest 10% of agreeableness and had the highest levels of antagonism had about a 40% heightened risk for thickened arterial walls. That’s quite significant!
In general, the researchers found that men had more thickening of the artery walls than women. But among women who were antagonistic, the risk quickly caught up with that of men. It seems that whereas women with agreeable traits had much thinner arterial walls than men with agreeable traits, antagonism had a much stronger association with arterial thickness in women.
Even though thickening of the artery walls is usually a sign of age, young people with antagonistic traits also showed thickening of the artery walls throughout the study.
So, the next time you worry about what stress is doing to your health, think instead about what anger and hostility might be doing. Remember that sometimes it’s how your personality interacts with stress that can have an impact on your health.
There are lots of reasons to conclude that chronic anger is bad for us. The challenge is how to make anger and hostility go away in a world of full of irritations and stressors. Get some help, if you need to, to resolve issues around anger and aggression. Not only will you improve your ability to interact with everything around you, but you’ll also be protecting your arteries and heart.