Madonna was onto something when she sang, "Express yourself, don't repress yourself," as a recent study showed that releasing your anger can lead to a healthier, longer life.
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People who express their anger-along with other negative emotions, from fear to anxiety-can expect to live up to a full two years longer than those who keep it bottled inside. That's according to the results of the study, authored by Germany's Marcus Mund and Kristin Mitte, of the University of Jena, and published in the journal Health Psychologies.
The researchers looked at more than 6,000 patients, and found that those who internalized their anger had elevated pulses-a condition that could lead to high blood pressure, and in turn raise the risk of heart disease, cancer, kidney damage and many more life-threatening issues, according to a report on the study in Medical Daily.
"These people are distinguished by the way that they attempt to conceal outward signs of fear, and also by their defensive behavior," Mund told the Daily Mail. "They avoid risks and always seek a high level of control over themselves and their surroundings. 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 and co-author of The Anger Advantage: The Surprising Benefits of Anger and How it Can Change Your Life. 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.'"
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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."
That's a key difference between healthy and unhealthy venting, says anger management expert Shannon Munford, of Daybreak Counseling Services in Los Angeles. "You can express your anger in a way that does lead to heart disease," he notes. "Expression of anger in any type of volatile way-screaming, destroying property-that type of anger doesn't help anybody."
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