Posted by: coachingparents | February 15, 2009


 By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

Years ago, medical science identified “stress” and “Type-A behavior”
as risk factors in developing heart disease and heart attack.  Today,
however, researchers have refined their conclusions to label
“hostility” as the psychological risk factor right up there with
smoking and a high-fat diet, for creating heart trouble.

Most of us don’t really know what our hearts do.  We also don’t know
what hostility is, much less how the two interact and influence our
health.  Such ignorance can prove fatal.

The heart is mostly a specialized muscle.  It is designed to move
blood throughout your body bringing oxygen and nutrients to every
cell.  Genetic research tells us the heart is designed to pump at an
average rate of 72 times per minute, for well over 100 years.  That is
like contracting your biceps 104,000 times every day.  The heart pumps
enough blood every week to fill an average-sized swimming pool.  Like
all muscles in our body, the heart responds to tension, nutrients,
emotions, your activity, your mental images, memories, anticipations
and perceived threats.  In other words, your heart can be accurately
described as exceptionally responsive to your thoughts and feelings. 
And internalized, frozen anger, or hostility is the most dangerous
emotion to which your heart responds.

Recent research has shown that men and women who score high on tests
measuring levels of hostility beginning when they are in their
twenties, are five times more likely to be dead by heart attack than
those who scored low on the same tests.  We now know how critical it
is for each of us to learn how to effectively manage our anger and
avoid developing behavioral habits based upon hostility.

Hostility can be characterized by cynicism, aggression, mistrust,
negative opinions of others, and impulsive anger expression triggered
by minor, insignificant stressors.  Many reports have shown a clear
connection between hostility in otherwise healthy people and the
development of atherosclerosis, the build-up of cholesterol and fat on
the inside walls of your blood vessels, sometimes called “hardening of
the arteries.”

Internist, Dr. Redford Williams, has written a book, “Anger Kills.” 
In it he describes how your nervous system reacts to perceived
stressors with stimulating adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones)
which raise your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as “prodding
your cells to dump fat and cholesterol into the bloodstream.”  He
says, “When we measure the adrenaline level in men with hostile
personalities, it’s higher than in people who aren’t hostile.”

If the heart is so responsive to emotional stress and hostility,
doesn’t it make sense it would also be positively responsive to such
emotions as love, joy, enthusiasm, warmth, caring, sense of belonging,
safety, delight, relaxation, etc.?  Indeed it does!

In addition to not smoking, eating a nutritious diet high in dietary
fiber and low in fat, moderate aerobic exercise, the psychological
factors of intimacy, fear release, forgiveness, spontaneity,
compassion, releasing stress and bodily tensions, letting go of 
resentments, healing old heartbreaks, self-assertiveness,
self-respect, self-care, taking responsibility for our own well-being,
and learning how to express love, …all benefit the health of your

Since these healthier skills are rarely taught in school, we need to
develop them through individual practice.  If we never observed these
skills when we were children, we are very unlikely to have made them
personal habits.  Don’t let hostility kill you.  Do your heart a
favor.  Help it to live as long as it was genetically programmed. 
Open your heart to new habits.  Open your mind to new beliefs. 
Practice emotional responses, which benefit your heart.  Focus your
attention on your own talents and positive personal attributes. 
Create positive thinking habits.  Soften the hardening of your
attitudes.  Develop personal skills and habits that prevent hostility
and heal your heart.  Enjoy the life you have.  It is that life after
all that is being sustained by your responsive heart.


Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life
coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of
Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams)
the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and
Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!”


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