Anger May Be Healthier Than Fear

Stress-linked hostility easier on the body than becoming anxious, study suggests

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FRIDAY, Nov. 11, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Stressed out? Put on an angry face -- or at least not a fearful one.

A small study has found that those who responded to stressful situations with angry facial expressions were less likely to suffer stress-related ill effects such as high blood pressure and high stress hormone secretion, compared to people who responded to stress with fearful expressions.

"Anger can sometimes be adaptive. We're showing for the first time that when you are in a situation that is maddening and in which anger or indignation are justifiable responses, anger is not bad for you," study lead author Jennifer Lerner, associate professor of psychology and decision science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said in a prepared statement.

In its study involving 92 people, Lerner's team "tested whether facial muscle movements in response to a stressor would reveal changes in the body's two major stress-response systems -- the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical axis," the researchers said.

Participants did math exercises, including counting backwards by seven from 9,095 and counting backwards by 13 from 6,233. To make the exercises even more stressful, the volunteers were told about each mistake they made and were harassed by a researcher who told them to go faster.

Participants were also told that the test was designed to measure their general intelligence and that their scores would be compared to the scores of other volunteers. The participants' stress hormone levels, heart rates and blood pressure were measured while they were at rest and immediately after they did the math exercises.

"Analyses of facial expressions revealed that the more fear individuals displayed in response to the stressors, the higher their biological responses to stress," Lerner said. "By contrast, the more anger and disgust (indignation) individuals displayed in response to the same stressors, the lower their responses."

The study was published this month in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

More information

The U.S. National Mental Health Association has advice on coping with stress.

SOURCE: Carnegie Mellon University, news release, Oct. 24, 2005

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