Why getting angry is good for your health
Whether you were prone to tantrums as a four-year-old when your mum wouldn't buy you sweeties at the supermarket, or became a stroppy, moody teenager, we've all dealt with anger in our lives and developed our own strategies for coping with it. As an adult, most of us learn to internalise our frustrations, unless something really serious has happened, pushing feelings of anger and resentment beneath the surface.
Take a look around you on social media – sometimes sites like Facebook are simmering pots of anger waiting to bubble over, as people of all ages express their opinions and frustrations with politicians, celebrities, news and even post angry statuses relating to their work and personal life. Remember though that anger is a normal emotion – it's only human to get angry, and although there's a time and a place for it, it can actually be good for your health. We decided it was time to look at some of the positive benefits of letting your temper get the better of you.
What does it mean to be angry?
Anger is defined as 'an unpleasant behavioural or emotional reaction when our expectations, beliefs or demands are unmet or unheard. There are actually three components to anger – thinking (negatively), feelings (frustration, bitterness, rage and disappointment) and acting (shouting, aggression and violence).
It's true that anger is not acceptable in most social situations, and nobody wants to be the angry, fist-shaking lunatic at their work meeting, but did you know that repressing your rage regularly could negatively impact your health? Keeping your angry feelings locked up inside can stress your cardiovascular system, make pain more acute and lead to depression and anxiety, which are often tied to feelings of worthlessness, frustration and lack of control.
How to handle your anger positively
Of course, we're not suggesting you shout and scream at everyone on a daily basis, letting your road rage take over or yelling at your partner because they've left toast crumbs in the butter – that's just bad for your health and could lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. But we all need to learn how to manage anger positively and channel it in a healthy way. Sometimes, it will be aimed at your boss after a meeting at work has gone wrong. Other times, you'll be angry with your partner, and anger can feel very different each time. Your age and gender can also impact how you experience anger.
There are a few basic steps you can take to manage anger, without the need to resort to anger management classes. The STAR-R strategy is a popular method of anger control which can help you to manage your anger positively. It's short for Stop, Think, Ask, Reduce, Reward.
Stop – Take a deep breath and count to 10. Be aware of your rising anger levels and look for signs such as hot cheeks, shaking and tense muscles.
Think – Take a moment to think about the consequences of losing your temper, both for yourself and the other person
Ask – Ask yourself what has really caused you to feel angry. Are you angry about the current situation, or something in the past that hasn't been resolved? Don't misdirect your anger towards the people closest to you. Look at your needs and how or why they are not being met. Talk it out if another person is involved, once you have calmed down
Reduce – What works for you when you need to cool off? A shower, going for a run, punching a pillow, meditating, a cup of tea...these are all popular ways to calm down. Whether it takes minutes, hours or days, do whatever it takes to cool off, then come back to the situation and discuss it calmly
Reward – You've done well to manage your anger, and you'll do even better next time. Treat yourself with some positive reinforcement – get tickets to a show, make your favourite healthy dinner or enjoy a night out with friends
Be constructive with your anger
Anger so often gets a bad rap, as we associate it with violence. But did you know that anger is only followed by aggression around 10% of the time? In fact, anger in a domestic setting, without aggression, usually has a positive effect. People often understand their partner better after a brief outburst of anger, and it can help you to be heard, addressing problems constructively. Of course, you'll need to sit down and talk about the problem afterwards.
Anger not only benefits your physical health, it can help your mental health too. Did you know that on the whole, angry people are more optimistic? This could have something to do with feeling less fearful and letting your emotions show, rather than repressing them. Anger also helps to provide insight into your own faults and behavioural patterns, which can help you change your outlook or your lifestyle. Remember though that any anger you express should be constructive, which means:
- The person causing the anger should be present
- The anger is justified and in proportion to the problem
- The anger is used to solve a problem, rather than venting for the sake of it
How anger benefits your health
Notice how you feel after an angry outburst. Chances are that the release of rage after an argument with your partner leaves you feeling tired, yet strangely calm. Anger can help you to feel more optimistic, confident and in control of a situation. It lowers stress on your heart and can help to identify areas of unhappiness in your life. Letting your anger and resentment simmer below the surface can lead to a whole host of health problems, including:
- Digestion problems
- Skin problems such as breakouts and eczema
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
Controlling your anger with exercise
We already know that exercise can help get endorphins flowing, helping you feel more positive, energised and motivated. But it can also help to control your feelings of anger. Anger and stress go hand in hand – those who are more stressed are the most likely to experience anger. Exercise or meditation can help to reduce your stress levels, as can getting a good night's sleep, eating a well-balanced diet (avoiding processed foods) and even writing in a journal.
Physical exertion burns stress chemicals adrenaline and cortisol, leaving you feeling calmer. If you need a way to release some of your stress and anger during your workout, try a martial arts class or boxing training session.
Anger – often misunderstood
Anger is a useful, positive emotion, and we should teach our children to deal with their emotions and express anger appropriately, to avoid negative effects on their health and undesirable behavioural changes. Lead by example and always allow children to express their anger in an appropriate way; violence and aggression should be punished, but anger should not. Learning to control your anger and manage it in a positive way will help you to feel calmer and more in control, improving your mental health and physical well-being; why not start today?
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