To Express Anger or Not?
Jim was one of those guys who had a quick temper and frequently had angry outbursts at work. Those around him knew he was quick to anger and tended to walk on eggshells around him as they never knew when he would go off, what would set him off, or who would be the target of his angry outburst. What they did know is that when Jim got angry, he was known to yell, slam things and curse. You could tell if he was in one of his states as his face was often red and his eyes blazing.
Expression of anger and its effect on our body depends on how we express anger. Intense anger, such as Jim’s response, triggers stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol and puts the body into fight or flight response. Physically, the brain moves blood away from the gut and towards the muscles to prepare the body for physical exertion. This increases heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. Our body temperature rises and the skin perspires. This intense response can mobilize one for emergencies and serves a purpose in that case.
But all too often, people who respond intensely with anger are not responding to an emergency, but are actually responding in a fashion that he/she often responds when angry. Reacting to anger in a “hot-headed” way and being reactionary, blowing off steam by yelling, slamming doors, and getting furious or raging is not healthy physically or mentally. People who frequently experience high levels of anger (expressed with explosive behaviors) need to pay attention. Numerous studies have shown that anger can increase your risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke. (Chida, 2009) The heart pumping harder, blood vessels constricting, blood pressure surging, higher levels of glucose in the body and more fat globules in the blood vessels may be causing damage to artery walls. (Kam, 2014) Anger may cause heart disease. Anxiety and depression have also shown to be contributing to heart disease as these negative emotions often co-occur with angry outbursts and fear and anxiety provoke the same response in the body. (Kam, 2014)
Not surprising to mental health therapists, research proves that there is evidence that supports the link between emotions and heart disease. Anger and hostility are significantly associated with more heart problems. In fact studies have shown that chronically angry or hostile adults with no history of heart trouble may be 19% more likely to develop heart disease than their calmer counterparts. For those patients already diagnosed with heart disease who had angry or hostile temperaments, they were 24% more likely than other heart patients to have a poor prognosis. (Kam, 2014). So attending to the whole person, mind and body, is coming into the physician’s exam room. High cholesterol and blood pressure are easy indicators but stress is not as easy to measure. Jerry Kiffer, MA, a heart-brain researcher at the Cleveland Clinic’s Psychological Testing Center says, “The bottom line: A change of mind can lead to a change of heart.” (Kam, 2014)
You can learn how to express anger in healthy ways. 1) Recognize you are not your emotions and observe your emotion, letting it pass through you as you pause to observe it. Walk away from the situation until the angry emotion has passed through. 2) Do something physical such as a good work out or taking a brisk walk to help dissipate the intensity of the feeling. 3) Learn a relaxation technique such as mindfulness, meditation or yoga. Practice simple ways to begin this process by observing breath and counting the breath 10 times of inhaling and exhaling. 4) Have a regular regime of exercise. 5) Become aware of your patterns of interacting, learning how to become assertive versus aggressive and/or learning more about conflict resolution.
Having anger, in and of itself, is a normal human experience. Anger is a positive and useful emotion. Anger can be good in motivating us to do something we need to do, give us information about something that just happened that felt wrong and/or provide us with opportunity to have insight in our lives. Many anger outbursts are not about the trigger at the time, but layers and layers of feelings pushed down and ignored, avoided or denied. (It may be years and years of “stuffing”.) Hypnosis has the technique of energy release, during which years of pent-up anger, resentments, hurt, etc. can be accessed and released in a much more appropriate way.
Anger can be expressed, appropriately or inappropriately, or suppressed. Suppression is not any better for the body than intense expression of anger. We will talk about suppression of anger in our next newsletter. But for now, if you are one of those people who need to get your expression of anger in check, consider some long-term management tools which include regular physical exercise, learning relaxation techniques and counseling. After all, “A change of mind can lead to a change of heart.” (Kam, 2014)
Chida, Y. &. (2009, March 11). Journal of the American College of Cardiology, pp. pp947-949.
Kam, K. (2014, March 5). Anger Effects on Your Heart: Heart Disease, Atherosclerosis, and More. Retrieved from Web MD.Tags: expressing anger, the pros and cons of expressing anger
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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