George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Frowning: The Downside

The weight of stress on your heart.

February 1, 2006

Are you one of those dreaded arch curmudgeons? The teacher who makes students cringe? The principal who drives teachers to hide under their desks? If anger is frequently your motivator, you could be doing your heart -- not just your students and colleagues -- considerable harm.

Research recently published by the Harvard Mental Health Letter says that if you live life inside a clenched fist, you're a Type D (for distressed). The blood platelets of Type D personalities are more likely to form clots, blocking arteries and causing heart disease. Why? When anger dominates, the heart beats faster, blood pressure rises and blood vessels strain. It's like an Outward Bound expedition -- without the fun and thrills and good vibrations. Think of bottled-up ire as the Grrrrrr-im Reaper.

So, all you Ds out there, it's time to lighten up. A report published last fall in Heart stated that music can help slow heart rates and improve overall cardio health. In fact, slow or meditative music (classical Indian ragas, for example) can induce a relaxing effect, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow throughout the body. Below are some other ways to give your heart a break.

Activity: Result

  • Laughing: The best medicine: relieves tension, keeps blood vessels dilated, and improves circulation and oxygen supply to the heart muscles.
  • Tai chi and yoga: These ancient regimens increase feelings of well-being, decrease blood pressure, and ratchet up energy, stamina, agility, and balance.
  • Paintball: Here's where aggression belongs. Uninhibited venting relieves tension, decreases anxiety, and improves circulation and blood pressure.
  • Talk: Talk really can be therapy, relieving tension and improving blood flow.
  • Massage: Even a ten-minute chair session can do wonders for circulation and relaxation.

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