Misconception of "Man Up" Is Literally Killing Black Men



     As we grow from children to adults we learn a lot of different lessons about our health and how to preserve it. Some of us are fortunate enough to receive abundant teachings about nutrition, sleep, healthy lifestyle habits, and disease prevention.

    However, all too often, the majority of the public has not been well educated about disease prevention and maintaining wellness. Moreover, most of us know very little about the correlation between our emotional health and our physical state of being.

    Today in America we are faced with many different diseases that have impacted us chronically for generations. In fact, America spends more on health care than any other country and even still our health ranks last against citizens of 10 other wealthy countries. Americans are in the midst of a health crisis and heart disease is at the forefront of that crisis.

    Annually approximately 600,000 individuals in America die from heart disease. It is the number one cause of death in both men and women. Of course there are obvious well-known ways to prevent this disease in our lives. Exercise and a healthy diet are familiar strategies to prevent heart disease.  But there is another huge component of heart disease prevention that many of us miss. 

    In addition to maintaining a nutritious diet and appropriate levels of physical activity, there is another huge lifestyle habit that we must understand and incorporate daily. This habit is appropriately managing our emotional responses to daily life stressors.

    June is men’s health awareness month. Men and their emotional health is a topic that is often sorely understood in our communities. Like all cultures, America has established many social norms and standards around masculinity and emotional expression. In our culture men are encouraged to suppress emotions such as sadness and fear while boldly expressing emotions of anger and rage. It is therefore no surprise that many men grow to overly express aggression as a sign of manhood. This is one of the major reasons why heart attacks are twice as common in men than women.

    Regardless of our gender, humans are emotional beings. Our emotions exist for our own protection and they function as a source of communication between our environment and us. Emotions are the connection between mind and body. Every emotion that we experience in our body creates a sensation or feeling, which is why we refer to our emotions as our feelings.

    There are seven basic emotions recognized universally and they include anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, and surprise. Each emotion is linked to its own unique cascade of chemical reactions and physical changes that can either improve our health or increase our risk of disease development. The CDC states that 85 percent of all diseases have an emotional element. We must learn the many impacts that emotions have on our physical health in order to prevent chronic disease in America.

    Violence, anger, aggression, rage, and hostility all increase a certain chemical in our bodies known as epinephrine. Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline. This chemical causes our hearts to work harder by beating faster and drives our blood pressure upward. Studies have shown that men with higher levels of hostility release more epinephrine into their systems over time. Chronically high adrenaline damages the lining of the heart and the blood vessels.

    Among all emotions, anger and hostility are the most important determinant of heart disease. According to research data published in the New England Journal of Medicine, mismanaged anger is perhaps the principal factor in predicting heart disease.

    In a study conducted by the American Heart Association it was shown that men who are quick to anger and live a life with chronic cynicism, hostility, and aggression double their risk of heart attack. The risk is doubled immediately following the anger episode for nearly two hours. Research has also shown that chronic hostility also increases cholesterol and hostile male teenagers are at an increased risk of developing heart disease younger in life.

    While expression of anger can be detrimental to men’s health, suppression of anger is also unhealthy. Men who suppress their anger are 75 percent more likely to develop heart disease than men who express and release their anger in healthy ways. So what is the solution? How can we experience the emotion of anger without increasing our risk of disease?

    The solution is simple. We have to be aware of the cause of our daily feelings and the cause is not the external factors themselves but instead what we think and believe about these situations. Our emotional response comes only after our brain has determined what we should think and believe about a situation that causes us to anger. In reality situations don’t cause anger, but how we think about them does.

    This is why it is essential for men to be more consciously aware and mindful of their thinking patterns and how they respond to the world around them. Our responses are constantly impacting our genetic expression and our state of health. Feelings such as anger do not arise directly from the situation, but the thinking creates them.

    All men should be encouraged to remember that anger often arises from defending our ego. The goal is to realize that most situations that result in our anger are rooted in an irrational pattern of thinking that can be altered. We have to encourage the men in our communities to be more mindful of their health conditions by first being mindful of their thinking patterns and emotional response. This is the key to longevity and heart disease prevention. Life is to be lived on purpose and mindfully. Take care of your mind and your health will surely follow.