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Essay/Term paper: Anger management and health

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Anger Management And Health

by, Danita C. McCoy
Anger Management and Conflict
Dr. Daube, Instructor

November 6, 1996

Everybody feels anger from time to time. People have been documented
feeling anger since biblical times when God was considered angry. Babies even
exhibit signs that are interpreted as anger, such as crying or screaming. Anger
is not in any way unique to people. Animals also have the ability to feel and
express anger.

In our personal lives we get angry over at least one thing on almost a
daily basis, whether it be on the job, with a spouse or loved one, or perhaps
with a figure of authority. Many psychologists have written about anger,
discussing the relationship between anger and fear. Each of the individuals
that comprise humanity possesses at least one phobia, in the same way that each
is capable of possessing anger. The negativity that is associated with phobias
often spills over into our feelings about anger. We begin to think negatively
about anger since we associate it with fear.

Plato was the first to suggest that anger was a disbalance. According to
Dr. Willard Gaylin, a prominent psychologist, anger is still seen as a
disbalance by many of today's psychologists. Since Plato, anger has suffered a
bad reputation. We only have to imagine a domestic abuse scene to immediately
condemn anger in all of its manifestations.

There is a reason why anger is viewed in a negative light. Nobody likes it
when someone is angry with them. We tend to avoid the wrath of those around us.
This is one reason we see anger as negative. Another reason may lie closer to
Plato's concept of imbalance. The negative perception of anger is evident in
the American Heritage Dictionary's definitions of the word anger (1): 1. A
feeling of extreme displeasure, hostility, indignation, or someone or something;
rage; wrath; ire. 2. (Obsolete) Trouble; pain; affliction.

To say, "I'm getting angry", is to invoke fear in another, usually, that fear
originates from a perception that the utterer of the phrase is about to take
some sort of dramatic action. Dr. Gaylin speaks for these emotions, rage is a
response to a perceived assault that effects the body in interesting ways.
Skeletal muscles are tensed; the autonomic system moves to increase the supply
of adrenaline and redistribute the blood flow of the body; certain muscles are
contracted and opposing ones relaxed. (2)
Apparently, anger is viewed negatively for a reason that is closer to
Plato's concept of imbalance. It is also closer to the American Heritage's
definition of being sick. The authors of When Anger Hurts: Anger in Modern
Life explain the complications that chronic anger can create. Doctors have long
suspected that anger increases the blood rate. Many scientists now point out
that norepinepherine, the drug that is secreted during anger, increases blood
pressure as well. Anger and abnormally high blood pressure are correlated; and
high blood pressure leads to many forms of heart disease. In a recent study
1,623 patients were interviewed an average of four days after they had suffered
a heart attack following an outburst of anger. The study showed that the risk
of suffering a heart attack is doubled after an outburst of anger. (3) The
psychologist Franz Alexander's hypothesized in 1839 that hypertesnisves lack
basic assertive skills. Psychological studies have repeatedly backed
Alexander's assertion theory ever since. (4)

High blood pressure is said to be caused by uncontrolled anger, which in
turn is caused by a lack of assertion. If we bottle up our anger now, then we
will feel it later. Eventually our arteries will grow weak and we will remain
tense, living daily with treacherous moods and health. The alternative is to
shout out our anger at the world and let it manifest itself any way that it
pleases. Of course, taking our anger out at the world can have even more
deleterious effects. People just don't like it when we demonstrate our anger.
Many of us are taught at an early age to bury our anger inside, where it causes
stress, both emotionally and physically. For example, in grade school, children
have to stay after class or are sent to the principle when they express feelings
of anger. Poorly managed anger is the cause of many serious physical, social
and emotional problems, form heart disease to neighborhood violence. The
Institute for Mental Health Initiatives (IMHI) believes that by teaching people
the skills to manage their anger constructively, they will become empowered with
the ability to understand their own and other's feelings and resolve conflict in
a non-violent manner. The IMHI believes the best way to achieve this goal is to
train teachers, counselors, social workers, health professional, community
leaders and others in constructive anger management skills so that they can help
others by conducting workshops in their own settings. (3)

Anger is not physically healthy. Bottled up, it can lead to drug-induced
escapism or to ignorance of our surroundings. Venting anger carelessly can also
be dangerous. It is no wonder that anger has been viewed as negative. Since we
live in a stressful society, we have no choice but to find ways of venting anger
positively. East Asian religion has given the West meditation, which is known
to slow the heartbeat and calm the nerves. Other Eastern techniques of reducing
stress include acupuncture, and the Japanese bathhouse. In the United States we
have psychology, also, a number of exercises have been developed to control and
eventually reduce stress and anger. One basic technique is called deep
breathing: Lie down on your back, placing one hand on your chest and another on
your abdomen. Take deep breaths, inhaling slowly through the nose. Feel the
abdomen raise and scan the body for tension. Let the tension go as you
encounter it. After five to ten minutes the body is less tense. It is
suggested that this exercise be done once or twice a day for two to three weeks
to get useful results. (4)

Redford Williams, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical
Center and co-author of Anger Kills, has spent more than 20 years studying the
impact of the mind and emotions on health. Dr. Williams believes that when
normal people are faced with everyday anger, annoyance, irritation, and
frustration-and their immediate impulse is to commonly blame somebody or
something, sparking fury toward the offender manifesting itself in aggressive
action, then getting angry is like taking a small dose of slow-acting poison.
According to a study of more than 1,000 people at a Western Electric Factory in
Chicago, over a 25 year period, those with high hostility scores were at high
risk of dying from coronary disease as well as cancer. There is evidence that
the immune system may be weaker in hostile people, according to Dr. Williams.
Long-term anger with no forgiveness is deadly. Long term anger can lead to
carrying a grudge, which in turn hurts the person harboring the grudge more than
the person or object whom the grudge is directed. Hostility can also lead to
heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses. (3)

Of course, if a particular issue is a thorn in one's side, it may be best
to lash out at the threat. Wisdom is knowing when to lash out. Meditation and
its cousin, deep breathing are two methods of contemplation, which Albert
Bernstein, the author of Dinosaur Brains, calls using the cortex. If we are
aware of the oncoming anger, we can vent it positively with these tools. If we
are unconscious that we are angry, then there is no way of controlling our
externalization of the anger. Albert Bernstein also describes how our brains
are constructed quite a bit like those of dinosaurs. We conceptualize more
abstract threats such as a coworker moving in on our territory. (5) This sort
of anger seems frivolous, but exists because we view reality the way we want.
We perceive what is not truly harmful as threatening.

Unfortunately, we are too often unconscious of our own anger. Dr. Hendrie
Weisinger, in his book Anger at Work, explains that people often have powerful
emotional reactions to others, yet are at a loss to explain just why they
respond as they did. Plenty of thinking goes on low frequency... an almost
subconscious level. (6) Regardless of how we may try to be rational, we detect
subtle indicators of our peers' moods. We often react to people based on these
subtle indicators that we receive of them. If we ignore the fact that much of
our emotion originates from this unconsciousness, then we cannot control it via
our more rational cortex. Relaxation techniques allow our brain to process
emotions, so that we can deal with them consciously. Dr. Weisinger also
recommends that people outthink anger by watching our for it. Otherwise, we
will blow up anger in our own mind, magnifying the significance of negative
events. This can lead to misdirected anger. For many individuals, anger is a
particularly strong influence, and it is difficult to control it even when it is
conscious anger. If any form of relaxation doesn't work, they should try
removing themselves from the stressful situation before they get an adrenaline
rush or their heart beat rises.

As previously stated, anger is mostly seen as an affliction rather than a
remedy. But, is anger positive?: The answer to the question is a conditional
yes. Indeed, anger is positive when it is used to assert oneself. When one is
being threatened by an adversary, anger can actually be useful. Our bodies
are designed to make us feel bigger than life at the sign of threat or
provocation. The area of the brain called the amygdala mediates anger
experiences, judging events as either aversive or rewarding. A threat code
triggers a two-stage fight/flight mobilization in the body. Things that affect
our bodily state can make us more emotionally reactive. When Anger Hurts:
Quieting the Storm Within documents a situation in which anger can be positive,
the authors describe a beneficial use of anger (4): "Iris, a middle-aged woman
living in New York, heard footsteps following her as she was returning home
alone. She was frightened but then she became angry at the thought of being
victimized. She slowed down; when the footsteps came nearer, she whirled around
and shouted at the top of her voice, 'Get away from me you son-of-a-bitch or
I'll kill you!' The would-be attacker fled." In this case, anger helped in the
instance of physical attack. Anger can also be beneficial when one's boundaries
are violated. (2) If someone is pushing you to the limit, there must come a
point in which you can assert yourself. Without such assertion, others will
begin to make excessive demands on you. People that follow that pattern and
constantly give into others' demands are told that they need to be more
assertive. Anger fosters this self assertion and it helps us display that

So it appears that we are faced with choosing between two evils. On one
hand, we can lash out at the world, thereby hurting others, or we can bottle in
our anger, thereby hurting ourselves. Anger in all of its manifestations
appears to be negative, with few exceptions, such as the woman that hinders an
attack by using anger to scare off the attacker.

Anger does deserve all of its bad reputation. Anger can be very
destructive, it can lead to liver, heart and artery damage. The key to living
with anger is being conscious of the anger that is within us. Without such
knowledge of ourselves, our anger will remain raw and unfiltered. Wisdom lies
in knowing when to deny anger and when to vent it, when to direct it, and at
what target. Leaving anger alone, leaving it to smolder so to speak, is a
dubious method of coping with anger. Aristotle said it best centuries ago, "
Anyone can become angry - that is easy. But to be angry at the right person, to
the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way
- that is not so easy." (4)

Chronic anger does lead to health problems. Not everyone suffers from
anger, but for those that do, it means a multitude of emotional related
illnesses. Anger is often accompanied by an imbalance of hormones, as Plato
recognized, and no imbalance is healthy in the long run. With consciousness and
relaxation, people may be able to achieve dominance over anger, rather than
allowing it to have dominance over them.


1 American Heritage Dictionary Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA 1985

2 Gaylin, Willard, M.D. The Anger Within: Anger in Modern Life. Simon and
Schuster, New York, NY 1984

3 Internet Research: Coping with Anger, 1996

4 McKay, Rogers When Anger Hurts: Quieting the Storm Within. New Harbinger,
Oakland, CA 1989

5 Bernstein and Rozen Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with all Those Impossible
People at Work. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY 1989

6 Weisinger, Hendrie, M.D. Anger at Work: Learning the Art of Anger Management
on the Job. William Morrow and Comapny, New York, NY 1995


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