Does biting your tongue harm your heart?

People who suppress their anger with colleagues or superiors at work are, staggeringly, more than twice as likely to die of a heart attack or heart disease, says a Swedish study of more than 2,800 men.

(A separate, earlier, study said that an overbearing or incompetent boss heightened the risk of angina, heart attack and death. Though the last, of course, will happen irrespective of the calibre of your employer.)

Apparently lashing out at the office is not an effective way of dealing with things, but the study didn’t look at the good ways of tackling anger.  Constanze Leineweber,  a psychologist at Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute and co-author of the report, said on a US Department of Heath site:

“It is not good just to walk away after having such a conflict or to swallow one’s feelings […]   Shouting out, and so on, is not proper coping,”

While the study included 2,000 women, too few of them had heart attacks for the researchers to come to any conclusions.

Clearly the survey found a corollary between heart attacks and keeping things bottled up, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us what to do about it. That is a personal question. For me, the thing to do would be to explain our concerns to the person that’s annoying us calmly and clearly. I’d hope to pitch my comments as about solving whatever the problem is at hand, rather than turning into a discussion about anger or frustration.

Of course, talking to friends outside of work would be useful too, just as a way to let off a little steam. But, however you feel about someone, bad mouthing them to anyone at the office, even if they are disliked by other people, is something that nobody should do – if only because it could leave you in a precarious position in the future.

Abstract at the British Medical Journal

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