Anger, the volatile emotion, is an important form of expression
But excessive or chronic anger has repercussions on your health
Did you accept the anger invitation today? Picture this: you wake up in the morning and its pouring outside. So you have to skip going out for a jog (which gets you a little annoyed). It's breakfast time, and your cook doesn't show up. Being in a hurry, you rush out without a wholesome meal (more annoyance). You need to make it to a meeting at 10 AM but you are stuck in a never ending traffic jam (annoyance suddenly turns into anger). You somehow make it to the meeting but it doesn't go as planned (anger level starts to increase). You have a long argument with a colleague (you are at the verge of screaming). You try to order a good lunch to lift your mood but the restaurant management messes up the delivery (anger level hits the roof). Then you are stuck in traffic again on your way back from work trying to make it for your best friend's dinner party (you are exploding by now and cursing at everyone).
According to authors Ronald T. Potter-Efron and Patricia S. Potter-Efron of the book Letting Go of Anger, an anger invitation is anything that happens that gives you an opportunity to get mad.”
As much as we seek inner peace, the truth is, it takes just a few seconds and a turn of events to make us get angry. And this is not a one-off event; it is pretty much every day of our lives in the fast paced, city life. We are constantly angry or annoyed about anything and everything – the traffic, the weather, the government, the state of affairs, work life, weight issues, not meeting targets, a fight with a friend, or the autoricksaw drivers trying to cheat us. There’s no respite.
Anger, the volatile emotion, may not result in a pleasant experience but the fact is that it is an important form of expression, where you let out your feelings. Therefore, it is okay to get angry and express how you feel, or even put the energy to good use. Excessive or chronic anger, on the other hand, is what has repercussions on your health, where it brings about physiological and biological changes affecting the heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety levels, etc; and hampers relationships with near and dear ones as you land up hurting their sentiments.
The Repercussions of Excessive Anger
According to a study done by the University of Pittsburg, negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and depression not only affect the functioning of the heart but also increase the risk of stroke. Persisting stress increases the risk for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease by evoking negative emotions that, in turn, raise the levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body.
In the book, Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men: How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get More Out of Life, the author, Thomas J. Harbin, says, “Research indicates that high levels of hostility lead to ulcers, heart disease, and other physical illnesses. Too much anger drives others away and leaves you alone. Too much anger ruins marriages, keeps you from advancing at work, and acts like a ball and chain, dragging you down and hindering your progress in most areas of life.”
Renowned American psychologist Charles Spielberger, who has done various studies related to anger, anxiety and depression, had developed the ‘state trait anger scale’. He defined state anger as a temporary emotional state, and trait anger as a general tendency to react angrily to perceive situations. The fact is that emotions vary from people to people, and also their ability to deal with it. Some people are ‘hot-headed’ as compared to others, and as such, have problems dealing with anger. We all react to anger, both consciously and unconsciously.
How to Curb Anger
According to experts at American Psychological Association, there are three main approaches to deal with anger and they are expressing, suppressing and calming. “Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others.”
“Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected into more constructive behavior. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive.” But it is important to express how you feel because unexpressed anger can create other psychological problems.
And finally, calming. “This means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside.”
Easy said than done, managing anger requires skills and some serious effort on your part to handle it. If you have been struggling with recent swells of anger, here are some tips that can help you -
1. Work it Out
Like they say, when in doubt work it out. Physical activity is one of the best outlets to release all the negativity from your mind. When your mind is clouded, trying even some basic exercises such as stretching can help you feel lighter. It will help release tension and free your mind. If you have access to the gym, try to burn some extra calories without of course straining yourself, or just go out for a jog.
2. Express Your Anger
“Suppressing or holding in anger is unhealthy. Therefore, we should not hesitate to talk about it. In fact, emotional expression can be in the form of art, dance, movement, written expression or any other form of creative expression. Anger, if expressed productively, can have a positive function. Remember, it is normal to get angry, but we must be able to channelize it in the correct direction, rather than simply suppressing it,” says Dr. Roshni Sondhi, Psychologist, Department of Mental Health, Fortis Healthcare.
Most experts also suggest addressing the issue and expressing yourself by using “I”. Example: I am angry because so and so forth. My feelings were hurt for these reasons. This will also keep you from blaming or criticising others.
3. Breathe, and Breathe
There’s a reason why yoga helps in calming us down. Focusing on our breathing helps to channelise the energies within us, thus bringing about a change. Savasana, also known as the corpse pose, is considered to be one of the most effective tools to curb anger. Here, you need to lie down on the floor, with arms and legs relaxed. Palms should be faced upwards and feet open. Then just close your eyes and focus on your breathing, as the tempo stabilizes, making you feel relaxed. Even a few minutes of meditation can work wonders.
4. Count Till 10
Most experts often suggest counting till 10 before expressing one’s anger. “Neurological anger response lasts less than two seconds,” says Ronald T. Potter-Efron, co-author of the book Letting Go of Anger. Therefore, that little time frame is enough to suppress one’s anger, helping him or her to think before reacting at the heat of the moment.
5. The Power of Water
“Anger is like flowing water; there's nothing wrong with it as long as you let it flow. Hate is like stagnant water…” – C. JoyBell C.
Anger needs to flow out of your body for you to function properly. And what better way than using water’s calming effects to cool down. There’s nothing like diving into a pool of water and swimming laps after laps to release all that tension in your mind. Besides losing some calories, it is also a great way to rejuvenate. Even listening to the sound of water falling or the waves in the sea can bring you inner peace. Or just go in for a nice long shower to destress and unclog your mind. Tell yourself, let it flow.
6. Take a Break
“Move yourself away from the heated situation (if possible). In times of crisis, or in the moment of a heated discussion or anger outburst, it is best to take a time out and temporarily walk away from the situation. It gives the person time to calm down,” says Dr. Roshni Sondhi.
Giving a break will also help you reinterpret the situation, where maybe you spot your own mistakes and deal with the situation in a better manner.
7. Act the Opposite
“One of the quickest ways to change a painful feeling is to act the opposite. Smile instead of frown. Speak softly rather than loudly. Relax instead of tighten. Disengage rather than attack. Empathize rather than judge,” says authors Matthew Mckay and Peter Rogers of The Anger Control Workbook. Most of us will also remember the popular Hindi movie Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., where Dr. J.C. Asthana (Boman Irani) uses laughter as a medium to let out his feeling of anger.
As mentioned in the book, Anger: Wisdom from Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh, “According to the Buddha’s teachings, the most basic condition for happiness is freedom. Here we do not mean political freedom, but freedom from the mental formations of anger, despair, jealousy and delusion. These mental formations are described as poisons. As long as these poisons are still in our heart, happiness cannot be possible.”