Mental Health

Hostility Hurts Your Heart, Especially After a Heart Attack

Cynical? Irritable? Sarcastic? If these personality traits are your go-to emotions, you may need to learn some ways to reduce hostility for the sake of your heart health.

A study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing found that a generally hostile outlook on life can make a person who has experienced one heart attack more vulnerable to a second one.

Researchers looked at 2,300 heart attack survivors, 68% of them men, who averaged 67 years of age, and followed them over a 2-year period.

Assessing your hostility

Patients in the study were assessed to determine how hostile their personality type was. Hostile personalities are identified by traits like cynicism, irritability, sarcasm and anger. More than half of those in the study (57%) had this type of personality. “Usually, the hostility is a piece of a type A personality,” said Donna Marino, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and executive coach in Chicago, in an interview with Medical Daily.

Having an adversarial personality doesn’t mean being irritated with a problem occasionally or making a sarcastic comment once in a while. People with this personality type have a generally negative outlook on life. They may have poor interactions with others. They may be under a lot of stress. Then they get irritable.

Improving those behaviors may be the key to better heart health outcomes, study author Tracey K. Vitori, PhD, RN, pointed out.

How hostility affects your heart

The researchers found that hostility, in itself, is an independent risk factor for dying of a second heart attack, even after adjusting for other risk factors like age, sex, smoking, education, marital status, diabetes and high blood pressure.

It has long been understood that depression, anxiety and stress are conditions that can affect cardiovascular disease. But these findings suggest that hostility also plays a role in cardiovascular outcomes.

Science is not sure exactly how hostility affects the heart, but the study notes that it is a common trait among those who have had heart attacks. This research could lead to adding a hostility personality assessment for heart patients, as well as better education. Making mental health behavioral changes may be important.

Healing your heart

Learning to reduce your hostile personality traits may be tricky. But when it comes to your heart health, there’s no better reason to try. Calming techniques and stressbusters, like counting to 10 before reacting, meditating for a few minutes with an app to guide you, or asking yourself if something will matter in three weeks, three months or three years can work, said Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist in Long Beach, California, and author of It Ends with You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction.

Yoga would also be great. “Any kind of relaxation training helps,” said Dr. Marino.

You can start to recognize the physical symptoms of becoming hostile: heart beating faster, muscle tightening, red face. Then learn to settle yourself down with calming practices.

On a deeper level, you can explore where the anger and hostility come from, with a therapist. “It often has a history or even goes back to childhood,” said Dr. Tessina. “Having an angry attitude prompts other people to react negatively to you, and it becomes a vicious cycle.”

By healing your hostility, you can do more than heal your heart.
 

Jennifer Nelson is a health writer based in Florida who also writes about health and wellness for AARP, PBS’ Next Avenue, Shondaland, and others.

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