When Reuben Tishkoff was cut out of a major deal in Ocean's 13 he was shown having a heart attack triggered by acute stress (for those of us watching Ocean's 13 the stress was on our eyeballs, rather than our hearts, from having to look at Tishkoff's choice of clothing).
Until recently the majority of medical researchers argued there was very little medical evidence showing that major stress in life could actually cause a heart attack. It had been argued that the leading contributors of heart attack were smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, but Dr Tom Buckley believes emotional aspects may be an even bigger contributor to heart fatalities than cardiologists and medical experts ever expected.
A report released earlier this week shows the Oceans 13 script writers were on the money. Dr Tom Buckley and his team of researchers from Sydney University and Royal North Shore Hospital published a paper in the European Heart Journal, titled Acute Cardiovascular Care, showing the risk of having a heart attack has been found to be 8.5 times higher in the two hours following an intense episode of anger, compared to a normal two-hour period during the year.
Or, in layman's terms, negative emotions and anger have now been proven to be risk factors for heart attack - so when you get really pissed off at work or at home, you are much more prone to a heart attack than if you had stayed calm and steady.
"Increased risk following intense anger or anxiety is most likely due to increase heart rate, blood pressure, tightening of blood vessels and increased clotting, all associated with triggering of heart attacks," the report says.
Monday morning double whammy
Dr Buckley also brings attention to the fact that previous research has shown Monday (the first day of the working week for most white collar workers) is the highest risk day for heart attacks.
A study conducted by Tokyo Medical University and published in the American Journal of Hypertension highlighted that workers experienced a significant increase in blood pressure after returning to the office following the weekend. The British Medical Journal also highlighted a 20 per cent spike in heart attacks at the beginning of the working week.
"This is considered likely to the emotion of going back to work, as this phenomena is not observed on public holiday Mondays. Therefore, one could easily deduct that Monday is probably the worst day to engage in an angry confrontation at work," the BMJ report says.
"Add to this that work stress has been shown to also be associated with increased cardiac risk, and you could be working in an environment that is far from heart friendly."
In Australia, approximately 56,000 Australians suffer a heart attack each year, or 153 heart attacks per day. Of these, 9300 die each year as a direct result, and one in four people who die from a heart attack do so within the first hour of the onset of symptoms.
On that basis it really is important that we are armed with skills other than just the traditional approaches (medication, healthy lifestyle) to combat this killer. Dr Buckley's research shows emotions now play a much bigger role in heart health than we ever thought.
Taking control of heart health
Rather than blaming your boss for your deteriorating heart health, or taking every Monday morning off for the rest of the year, let's look at five proactive ways to manage your emotions in the workplace.
1. Understand your triggers
Identify the people, environments and interactions that cause you to feel anxious, angry or upset. What can you do about this? Sometimes just acknowledging there's not much you can do apart from letting it go can be the best coping strategy.
2. Notice the warning signs
When you feel angry what happens to your body? Do your muscles tighten up, does your neck feel tense, do you get a splitting headache? Learn to use these warning signs like a dashboard diagnostic on your car and when they start to flash, change channels by trying to relax, walking away from the situation or calming your breath.
3. Control your thinking
You really can change the way you think. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness are two great techniques to help you manage and re-author your thoughts. Learning not to blow things out of proportion is one of the best coping strategies we can all use. Using a 'thought journal' is a great way to help you capture your thinking and identify 'Automatic Negative Thoughts'.
4. Learn assertiveness skills
Dr Buckley suggests "one of the big things we have learnt from this study is, for some people, assertiveness skills may be as important in managing their heart health as physical activity and healthy eating". Learn more about reflective dialogue and how to have healthy coaching conversations where you talk about the behaviour or the problem, not argue or try and debate with the person.
5. Switch off and relax
Learning to calm the body and distract the mind are very important strategies to help minimise the impact of anger.
What do you do to manage your emotions and stay calm at work?
Main source: Triggering of acute coronary occlusion by episodes of anger. European Heart Journal, Dr Tom Buckley, February, 2015.