Is Anger Your Friend or Your Foe?

Getting angry is an instinctual response to the perception of impending harm or injustice to oneself or others. Anger is an emotional reaction that is accompanied by physiological responses intended to empower us to defend ourselves and facilitate rectifying the perceived injustice. Though this emotion is in service to the individual and others, it is accompanied by physiological manifestations that may actually end up harming us. How can we protect ourselves, get justice to reign and not harm our health?

When we get angry our blood flow, heart and breathing rates increase which prompts the excretion of stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. These physiological activities decrease our capacity for sensible reasoning. Dr. Laura Kubzansky of Harvard School of Public Health who studied the impact of stress hormones on the heart makes the distinction between ordinary anger and a high level of anger both in intensity and duration. She concludes that the latter is the cause of health concerns for the individual.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who tracked 1,055 medical students for 36 years discovered that “The ‘hotheads’ were six times more likely to suffer heart attacks by age 55 and three times more likely to develop any form of heart and blood vessel disease than did the ‘coolheads’.”

In an evaluation of 200 stroke patients in Israel, researchers linked a bout of intense anger to a 14-fold increase in risk of a stroke within two hours of the emotional incident.

Dr. Rosalind Wright reports a Harvard study that discovered, “Hostility is associated with poorer lung function and more rapid rates of decline among older men.”

Parents, teachers, coaches and other adults often attempt to control our emotional responses. Commonly, parents and other adults view our emotional reactions as a habit that will eventually get balanced with age. That assumption is faulty. Children need to be taught and modeled optional behavior in response to frustration.

Many individuals who are told by their spouses, friends and others that they are prone to get intensely angry tend to deny this proclivity. Since it is an issue that when modified can increase one’s health, people may choose to get a verification of their level of anger by getting a professional opinion.

Individuals who have been repeatedly told that they have a temper and are quick to anger may choose to use this feedback as a kind and loving response intended to help them consider taking actions to preserve their health and longevity. They may also get an independent verification by using Drs. William E. Snell and associates of Southern Missouri State University’s “Clinical Anger Scale (CAS)” that is available for use online with the written permission of the authors.

If told that you are quick to anger:

  • Thank the person and consider it as supportive feedback.
  • Modify your reaction to frustration to save your health and longevity.
  • Respect yourself and others by exercising patience and tolerance in all your interactions.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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