Illustration by Amira Hakmal Hakim

THE Malaysian adage “Jangan marah, nanti cepat tua” (Don’t get angry, you will age fast) might not carry much weight for men, especially in the work environment.

This is if the findings of a Swedish study are to be believed.

The study by the Stress Research Institute of Stockholm University says men who bottle up their anger at being unfairly treated at work are up to five times more likely to suffer a heart attack, or even die from one, than those who let their frustration show.

The study followed 2,755 employed men who had not suffered any heart attacks from 1992 to 2003.

“It is not good just to walk away after having such a conflict or to swallow one’s feelings,” study co-author Constanze Leineweber, a psychologist at the institute.

The study did not specify good ways of coping with work-related stress – “We just looked at the bad side of coping,” Leineweber explained.

The study doesn’t advocate being belligerent at work, Leineweber cautioned. “Shouting out, and so on, is not proper coping,” she said.

But venting one’s anger outside of the workplace didn’t seem to take a cardiovascular toll, at least. “Getting into a bad temper at home” was not associated with an increased risk of heart attack or cardiac death, the study authors found.

Leineweber stressed that what is true for men might not be true for female workers. While the study included more than 2,000 women, too few of them had heart attacks or died of heart disease to allow conclusions to be drawn.

“Earlier studies have indicated that women use different coping strategies than men,” Leinewaber said. “So for women, strategies such as going away and not saying anything might not be good.”

Women in general appear to handle stressful situations better than men, noted Dr Bruce S. Rabin, director of the Healthy Lifestyle Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“Social interaction, having people to talk to, is extremely important,” Rabin said. “If you keep things to yourself, you have high levels of stress hormones. Women are more comfortable in social interactions than men. They talk more, while men tend to keep within themselves.”

A study, conducted by the Swedish researchers in 2005, found that women did not have the same levels of cardiovascular risk factors as men, Rabin noted.

There is no one key to handling on-the-job stress, because the level of stress depends on an individual’s environment, at work and in the home, he said.

“Work environment is important,” Rabin said. “You need interaction between people so that everybody feels they can express their opinions about their work. You shouldn’t come to work with a feeling that no one cares.”

“And when you go home, it is very important to share your feelings with whomever you are sharing with,” Rabin added. “Also, you should understand that children learn from the behaviour of parents. You can have a meaningful effect on the long-term health of children by being good role models. The message is that the environment you culture can affect not only your health but also the health of those who are important to you.”