Anger is neither good nor bad
We all get angry. The dog hikes his leg on your new sofa; somebody spills coffee all over your laptop; your teenager does/doesn’t ______ (fill in the blank). Of course we get angry. But anger itself is neither good nor bad. It’s what you do with it that matters.
“Anger is a negative emotion, but it’s not necessarily bad,” says Dr Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at The Ohio State University who studies anger, aggression and violence. “Anger makes people feel strong and powerful, which can motivate them to stand up for what they believe is right.”
Consider, for instance, the role of anger in social movements and how it can motivate us to right the wrongs we see. It may also lead to better outcomes, alerting others to “Listen up!” For instance, your 5-year-old may be more likely to comply with a heated – rather than calm – request to hold your hand while crossing a busy intersection.
But normal levels of anger can easily cross over into the unhealthy realm. Case in point: the hothead who struggles to get along with others. Relationships suffer, of course, unless you learn how to control your anger. But research shows that health does, too.
What’s going on in the angry brain?
When you get mad, your brain’s more rational prefrontal lobes shut down, and the reﬂexive back areas take over. Hormonal and cardiovascular responses kick in. Your body pumps out cholesterol and a group of chemicals called catecholamines. Those, in turn, encourage fatty deposits to pile up in the heart and carotid arteries. No wonder hotheads are more likely to have a heart attack than those less prone to fury.
One study, published in 2015 in European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, found that the risk of a heart attack is 8.5 times higher in the two hours following a burst of intense anger. The ﬁght-or-ﬂight response can prompt your nervous system to cut blood ﬂow to your stomach and divert it to your muscles, impacting digestion secretions.
“If someone spills coffee on your laptop, your heart rate and blood pressure increase – that’s the physiological response,” says Bushman. “You would then label your arousal, such as by calling it ‘anger,’ if the person did it on purpose or you think they did.”
And anger causes a surge in the stress hormone cortisol. During prolonged and frequent eruptions of rage, parts of the nervous system become highly activated, which can affect the immune system over time. So, how can you learn to control your anger? Answers ahead!
It’s hard to make smart choices when you’re in the grips of a negative emotion. Rather than trying to talk yourself down from a cliff, avoid climbing it in the first place. To control your anger, identify warning signs that you’re starting to get annoyed. When you recognise them, step away from the situation. Or try relaxation techniques to minimise your irritation.