Anger Control for Men
Why we get angry — And why uncontrolled anger is a serious health threat
By R. Morgan Griffin
Life provides men with an endless supply of things to get angry about. There's the sullen waitress who refuses to look in your direction while you wave desperately for the check. There's the oaf who drifts across the road without ever using his blinker. There's the dropped call, the tepid shower, the gum on the bottom of the shoe.
While it's perfectly natural to get angry about any of these things, anger comes to some men more naturally than others. For the hot-tempered, the pettiest annoyance results in out-of-control anger. And some guys, despite the fact anger is listed among the deadly sins, genuinely like having a hot temper. It can be a source of pride and a badge of masculinity. Even if you're not busting heads every weekend at a roadhouse, you might enjoy indulging your angry side. You might feel that anger helps you succeed and inspires respect.
But there's a downside to the manful, short-fused Type A personality. “In researching people with this disposition, we found that anger and hostility may actually be lethal,” says Charles D. Spielberger, PhD, a distinguished research professor of psychology at the University of South Florida who's been studying anger for 25 years. And he means lethal to the person who gets angry, not the one on the receiving end of the anger. The evidence that anger can detract from your health is mounting all the time. And of course, uncontrolled anger in men can leave your marriage and your career — not to mention your crockery — in pieces.
So what is this emotion that we all share but rarely think about? How do we know if our anger is out of control — and what is it doing to us?
Is anger just an emotion? While we think of it that way, it's really much more. “Anger is both psychological and physiological,” Spielberger tells WebMD. When you lose control of your anger during a traffic jam or at your son's soccer game, your nervous system triggers a number of biological reactions:
• Levels of hormones, like cortisol, increase.
• Your breathing gets faster.
• Your pulse gets faster.
• Your blood pressure rises.
• As you heat up, you begin to sweat.
• Your pupils dilate.
• You may notice sudden headaches.
Basically, your body is gearing up for intense physical activity. This is the “fight” part of the “fight or flight” response. If we're exposed to something stressful, our bodies get ready to do battle or run away.
Spielberger says that anger is common because it has an evolutionary advantage. “Anger isn't just a human emotion,” he says. “Fear and rage are common to animals too. They developed over eons to help creatures fight and survive.”
Don't have a coronary, dude! Health risks of uncontrolled anger
The problem is that, nowadays, your body's full-blooded physical response to anger isn't always so useful. It might have come in handy when our ancestors were trying to club a cave bear to death. But it really doesn't help much when you're standing in a line at the DMV.
In fact, uncontrolled anger is worse than useless: It's bad for you. Several studies have found a link between anger and disease. For instance, a large study of almost 13,000 people found that those who had high levels of anger — but normal blood pressure — were more likely to develop coronary artery disease or have a heart attack. The angriest were three times as likely to have a heart attack as the least angry.
So how does anger turn into disease? Your body's physical reaction to anger is intended for the short-term — it gives you the immediate boost you need to survive. But if this explosion of hormones is triggered too often, you can suffer long-term effects. Anger's stress hormones may contribute to arteriosclerosis, the build-up of plaques in the arteries that can cause heart attacks and strokes. These hormones may also increase levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which causes inflammation and may also contribute to cardiovascular risk. One 2004 study in Psychosomatic Medicine found that people prone to anger had levels of CRP twice or three times as high as others. Anger can even cause electrical disturbances in the heart rhythm.
Anger has also been linked with depression. People who report being frequently angry are less likely to take care of themselves. They're more likely to smoke, drink to excess, and eat badly, and they're less likely to exercise. While it's hard to say that in these cases anger is the cause, it's certainly linked with a lot of unhealthy behaviors. Anger can also be an expression of feelings of helplessness or depression.
Controlling your anger
But Spielberger doesn't want anger to be demonized. It's not evil. “Anger is a natural, human emotion,” Spielberger says. “There's nothing abnormal about it.”
He points out that when it's correctly channeled, anger can be constructive. It can drive people to speak out and solve problems. It's the impulse behind much great literature and music. The white hot anger of the righteous has often been a powerful, positive force in our world. But the problem is that for every man who uses his anger constructively, there are a dozen brawling knuckleheads who waste their lives making appearances in the local paper's police blotter.
Since anger is natural, what are we supposed to do with it?
to be continued