In the automatic stress response, the prevailing emotion which precipitates nearly one thousand four hundred instantaneous physiological changes is either anger (if it is perceived as one that should be avoided).Recent research indicates how these powerful emotions have medical significance, even if the biological mechanisms by which they have their effect are yet to be fully understood.
Patients at Stanford university medical school who had suffered a first heart attack all experienced a drop in the pumping efficiency of their hearts five to seven percentage points when asked to recount incidents that had made them angry. While recalling the upsetting incident, the patients said they were only about half as angry as they had been while it was happening. Yet this is a range that cardiologists regard as a sign of myocardial ischemia, a dangerous drop in blood flow in the heart itself.
A hostility test conducted on doctors while still at medical school showed that those with the highest hostility levels were seven times more likely than those with low levels to have died by the age of fifty. Being prone to anger is a stronger predictor of dying young than are risk factors as of smoking, high pressure and high cholesterol. Further findings show that in heart patients undergoing angiography, scores on a test of hostility correlate with and coronary artery disease.
Although it is not yet clear whether a hostile personality plays a causal role in the early development of coronary artery disease, anger is particularly lethal in those who already have heart disease. Separate long-term studies at Stanford and Yale found that heart attack survivors who had been rated as easily roused to anger were three times more likely to die of cardiac arrest than those who were more even-tempered. If they also had high cholesterol levels, the added risk from anger was five times higher.
A Harvard medical school study asked one thousand five hundred men and women who had suffered heart attacks to desire their emotional state in the hours before the attack.
Being angry more than doubled the risk of cardiac arrest in people who already had heart disease; the heightened risk lasted for about two hours after the anger was aroused.
An English health authority has reported evidence that those M.I. patients experiencing the greatest levels of psychological distress have a risk of death five to six times higher than those who do not face these difficulties.
However, there is evidence that trying to suppress feelings of anger in the heart of the moment actually magnifies the body’s agitation and may raise blood pressure. On the other hand, the net effect of ventilating anger every time it is felt is simply to reinforce it as the likely response to any annoying situation. Radford Williams resolves this paradox by concluding that whether anger is expressed or not is less important than whether it is chronic.
But chronic anger need not be a death sentence. At Stanford, cognitive anger control training resulted in a second heart attack ate forty four percent lower than for those who had not tried to change their hostility. A programme designed by Williams has had similar beneficial results. Hypnotherapist and practitioners in Nero-Linguistic Programming (NLP) can also modify habits that are ingrained in the subconscious mind.
Such therapists have long known that repeated rehearsal by visualization while in trance produces new behavioural patterns. Now PNI is providing a scientific rationale for their hitherto mainly empirical experience.
(Review complied by Adam Michael Sanders)