Dr. Williams says hostility has three stages, and he gives this example: You are in an express line at the supermarket checkout with a sign saying, “No more than 10 items.”
Stage 1: You distrust others. You count the items in the baskets of the people in front of you. You expect somebody to cheat and thereby take advantage of you.
Stage 2: You feel angry when you find somebody cheating. The guy in front of you has 12 items.
Stage 3: You show the anger by saying something nasty to the “cheater.”
According to Dr. Williams, all three stages can damage you. In one study, high levels of hostility found in healthy men at age 25 were seen as predictors that they were up to seven times more likely to get heart disease or die by age 50.
In another test, young men with and without high hostility levels worked on a complex mental task. Blood pressure in both groups rose at about the same rate. At one point, a psychologist began to harass the test takers. In the non-hostile men, blood pressure remained steady. In the hostile men, however, the pressure went through the roof.
Other studies show that hostility can spur the release of a hormone called epinephrine, which makes your heart beat fast and your blood pressure rise. High blood pressure leads to damaged arteries and heart attack.
Dr. Williams says those who cynically mistrust other people are most at risk. Dr. Friedman says hostility comes from unbridled greed, low self-esteem, or insecurity – feelings that you will be hurt, might fail, or won’t be loved. Whatever its source, doctors agree that hostility is a factor in heart attack.
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