Why are there so many men with heart related health issues: from a psychologist’s perspective
A few days back, I was talking with my dad, who shared this disturbing statistic in the newspaper: “400 men in Amritsar have gotten stent surgery in the past year” (Dainik Bhaskar, 2022). A stent is a tube inserted to keep a passage open, and the surgery unblocks clogged arteries. After hearing this statistic, my family, as I would imagine would be the case for most people, wondered about the poor physical fitness of the men in Amritsar that may have led to cardiovascular issues requiring stent surgery. However, as a psychologist, the first connection I made in my mind was with poor psychological health. This statement may be astonishing or peculiar for many; however, I have research and first-hand counselling experience to support it.
Research has found that suppression of emotions is a marker and cause of poor psychological health and has both short-term and long-term adverse consequences. Short-term consequences include increased blood pressure, stress levels and degradation in memory (Richard & Gross, 1999). On the other hand, research has shown that long-term consequences of emotional suppression are more in number and far worse for one’s physical and psychological health. These consequences include experiencing episodes of extremely high levels of aggression (Roberton et al., 2012) and an increased likelihood of developing depression (Ehring et al., 2010; Flynn et al., 2010). Furthermore, studies have found emotional suppression to decrease immunity and increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even earlier death (Chapman et al., 2013; Fisher et al., 2018; Quartana et al., 2013). In this blog post, I will focus on an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases caused by the suppression of emotions. This issue is prevalent not only among men in Amritsar; but throughout India, where 3,10,190 stent surgeries were performed in 2014, of which a large proportion was in men (EH News Bureau, 2015).
The link between suppression of emotions and cardiovascular diseases may seem odd to a layperson; however, there is an intricate link between our physical, emotional, and psychological health. As part of research literature, multiple mechanisms explain this link between emotional suppression and cardiovascular diseases. First, suppression of emotion increases blood pressure and stress levels in the short run. Chronic exposure to these due to suppression of emotions over a prolonged period enhances the risk of heart-related concerns. Second, it has been found that individuals who suppress their emotions are chronically stressed, dealing with depression, or anxious, which subsequently leads them to engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking, smoking, bingeing or overeating, and exercising less. All these unhealthy coping mechanisms further enhance their risk of developing cardiovascular concerns. Neurologically, the areas in our brain responsible for managing our emotions, such as the amygdala, have also been activated during bone-marrow activity and arterial inflammation, which are parts of our cardiovascular system. Thus, explaining the neurological link between emotional suppression and cardiovascular diseases.
The psychological reason why cardiovascular diseases are more common in men as compared to women is that men engage in emotional suppression a lot more than women. But the question arises why is that the case? One of the reasons is that expressing emotions, predominantly negative emotions like sadness, loneliness, shame, etc., is not socially acceptable for men in our society. We all must have commonly heard or perhaps even engaged in statements like “boys/men don’t cry”, “men up”, “men should be (emotionally) strong”, and many more. On the other hand, it is socially acceptable for women to cry and express negative emotions. However, the case is reversed for the emotion ‘anger’ – while it is not socially acceptable for women to express anger, it is socially acceptable for men to express it. This social acceptance is one of the significant root causes of the high prevalence of anger issues among men. The emotions that men tend to suppress get expressed in the form of anger or tend to get accumulated and released as aggression. This calls for a need for anger management.
Accounting for the aforementioned adverse consequences of emotional suppression, it is recommended to express and process emotions in healthy ways to live a full and healthy life, psychologically and physically. If you struggle with expressing emotions or anger management issues, it is recommended that you seek professional help to address these concerns. Our counselling psychologist, Navya has experience working with male clients who seek counselling and therapy for anger management, which also includes enhancing emotional capacity. To book a session, you can go to https://www.beginagainindia.com/book-online