The old adage "Don't get mad, get even" may have to be rewritten as doctors have found that getting angry with your boss can be good for your heart.
People treated unfairly at work who suffer in silence have twice the risk of a heart attack or dying of heart disease compared with those who vent their anger, researchers have discovered.
The finding backs up research which has shown that "covert copers" – those who suffer in silence – have worse health than those who confront their tormentors. People who bottle things up show signs of high blood pressure and heart disease and are more likely to go off sick. The underlying mechanisms affecting health are unknown but doctors believe that anger, when unresolved, can be corrosive of health.
A person's coping strategy is largely a matter of personality but is also influenced by the circumstances in which they find themselves. Covert coping is often adopted by staff lower down the hierarchy who have less job control.
Swedish researchers from the University of Stockholm followed 2,755 male workers from the early 1990s to 2003. They took a range of measurements, including blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol levels, and asked the men how they coped with unfair treatment or conflict at work.
They recorded whether the workers used avoidance tactics, such as walking away from a situation, and whether they suffered headaches or other physical symptoms.
There were 47 deaths from heart attack or heart disease in the group over the 10 years. After correcting for the degree of job strain the men were under, and biological factors, they found those who persistently bottled up their anger rather than expressing it openly were more than twice as likely to suffer from heart attacks or heart disease. The results are published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Women were included in the study and the results showed bottling things up was equally damaging for them. However, because of the low number of heart deaths among women, no conclusions could be drawn.
"Further research should examine whether interventions designed to reduce covert coping would alter the risk of myocardial infarction [heart attack] and death," the researchers said.
Constanze Leineweber, of the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University, who led the study, said: "I would not advise shouting at the boss. That is not the best solution. But it is always better to say you feel unfairly treated and to find constructive solutions to it. We found an increase in risk among those who did not talk to the boss. There must be ways of reducing the risk."
She added: "Of course it would be best to have a work environment where there are no conflicts but that isn't always possible."
Temper, temper: Two famous conflicts
*In 2002, Ireland footballer Roy Keane gave an interview expressing unhappiness with his team's training facilities. When manager Mick McCarthy confronted him in front of the squad, he said: "Mick, you're a liar. I didn't rate you as a player, I don't rate you as a manager, and I don't rate you as a person. You're a fucking wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse."
*After his Bafta win for A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe read out a poem, which was edited out of the broadcast. Crowe allegedly cornered ceremony director Malcolm Gerrie and shouted: "I don't give a fuck who you are. Who on earth had the fucking audacity to take out the Best Actor's poem? You fucking piece of shit, I'll make sure you never work in Hollywood."