We all get angry from time to time. After all, anger is just another human emotion that can arise as a result of work, family or money problems coupled with overwhelming demands on our time or emotions. Into this potentially explosive mix, you can add in a handful of genetic and family upbringing factors that make it difficult for people to manage their emotions properly.
Of course, anger can be extremely helpful, enabling us to defend ourselves in dangerous situations as part of our fight or flight system. But on a day-to-day level, that’s not always appropriate. What we do with our anger can have a huge impact – often negative – on our health, wellbeing, relationships and careers.
According to research by University College London, a brief outburst of temper can cause surges in blood pressure and heart rate, increasing the risk of a heart attack by 19 per cent. And beware arguing with your partner! Scientists at Ohio State University found that a 30-minute argument can slow down healing rates, raising the level of cytokines (immune molecules that trigger inflammation), and thereby the probability of developing arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Long-lasting and simmering anger, including subtler forms such as sarcasm and impatience, is no better. A study in Michigan, USA, found that women who suppressed anger while arguing with their partners had twice the risk of dying from conditions such as heart attack, stroke or cancer. Even recalling such stressful incidents several days later can cause blood pressure to rise, says the International Journal Of Psychophysiology.
The mind-body link
The inescapable fact is that our emotional and physical health are inextricably linked, with strong emotions such as anger often bringing about physical changes to the body, including:
- Muscle tension
- Heart palpitations or tightening of the chest
- Increased blood pressure
- Risk of stroke/heart attack
- Jaw clenching
- Changes in appetite
- Poor concentration
- Abdominal discomfort
- Digestive and bowel problems
- Skin problems
- Auto-immune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis
Most people will experience episodes of anger which can be managed without a damaging impact on their lives. Learning healthy ways to recognise, express and deal with anger is vital for maintaining optimum mental and physical health.
Top tips for managing anger effectively:
Remember, you can’t always control situations that make you angry, but you can choose how to respond:
- Take time out – In situations where an angry response is a tempting, count to 10, breathe deeply and walk away. Give yourself time to calm down and, if necessary, express the anger in a way that doesn’t hurt yourself or others by, for example, punching a pillow or writing an angry letter (that you don’t send). Mindfulness techniques can also be useful.
- Look after yourself – Sleeping and eating well will help you handle situations in a calmer and more measured way while regular exercise can let out angry feelings and improve your mood.
- Talk – confide in someone who is not involved, such as a friend, family member, counsellor, your GP or the Samaritans.
People often come to me complaining of muscle tension, headaches or backache. When I ask them more about their lifestyle, it can become clear that their ache or pain is a physical manifestation of anger, and that dealing with the root cause will help them to feel better. If this sounds familiar then please contact me and we can have a further discussion at a consultation.