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7 Questions About Anger

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2. APA: What are some of the positive aspects of anger?

Dr. Kassinove: Many of the longer-term outcomes of anger are negative. Yet, anger is part of our biological history. It is part of the fight-or-flight reaction. It had survival value in the past and it has some positives in the present. Many of these, however, are short-term benefits as few of us like to spend time with angry people.

Anger can be an appropriate response to injustice. No doubt, anger played a useful part in social movements for equality for blacks, the elderly and women, among others. Anger may also lead to better outcomes in business negotiations as well as an increased motivation to right the wrongs we see in the world.

The positives include its alerting function. Anger tells others it is important to listen to us — that we feel agitated and it is wise to be alert to our words and actions. It may also lead to compliance by others. Strongly asserting that we were first in line at a store counter may lead to better service. Also, in the short term, children and others may be more likely to comply with our requests when we are angry. “Don’t go in the street without holding mommy’s hand!” when said angrily to a small child, can be lifesaving.

Anger sometimes just feels good and righteous. We may feel angry when watching a movie or a play where a character suffers inappropriately. Then, when good triumphs over evil, anger is replaced with a feeling of satisfaction. Playwrights have known about this for eons. In a similar vein, anger provides a certain zest for life. Can you imagine a world with no anger? The healthier, milder levels of irritation and annoyance add spice to daily existence and we all seem to enjoy that.

3. APA: What are some of the potential health consequences of anger?

Dr. Kassinove: Many people consider excessive anger to be just a psychological problem. That is a gross simplification. When we become angry, the autonomic nervous system is aroused. For example, anger precipitated by the discovery of a spouse’s secret affair will likely lead to arousal of the sympathetic nervous system and associated hormonal and neurochemical changes. These physiological reactions can lead to increases in cardiovascular responding, in respiration and perspiration, in blood flow to active muscles and in strength. As the anger persists, it will affect many of the body’s systems, such as the cardiovascular, immune, digestive and central nervous systems. This will lead to increased risks of hypertension and stroke, heart disease, gastric ulcers, and bowel diseases, as well as slower wound healing and a possible increased risk of some types of cancers.

Research has found that anger is an independent risk factor for heart disease. Having a tendency to experience anger frequently, in many types of situations, is known as high trait anger. One study followed 12,986 adults for approximately three years and found a two to three times increased risk of coronary events in people with normal blood pressure but with high trait anger. Another study followed 4,083 adults for 10 to 15 years. Those who were lowest on anger control had the highest risk of fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events. After reviewing the literature, experts have concluded that high trait anger, chronic hostility, anger expression and acute anger episodes can lead to new and recurrent cardiovascular disease. When anger is experienced moderately and expressed assertively it may be less disruptive than when it is frequent, intense and enduring.

Photo credit: Stockbyte/George Doyla/Thinkstock

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Ann Pietrangelo

Ann Pietrangelo is the author of No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis and Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. She is a freelance writer and member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo

80 comments

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9:03AM PST on Feb 4, 2013

Why are you supposed to look at this with regression? Why not actually resolve the troubles?

6:20PM PDT on Oct 14, 2012

I find that giving myself some alone time to purge demons (i.e; stomping around my home yelling unkind things at who or whatever is bugging me for 30minutes or so, weekly), does wonders for improving my mood & attitude to forge ahead. A long brisk walk also alleviates the pressure, lets me diffuse my frustrations and leaves me refreshed too. Life .really is too short..

10:46AM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

thanks for the tips its better

10:24PM PDT on May 24, 2012

Thanks.

10:16AM PDT on May 23, 2012

anger is a waste of emotion

9:09AM PDT on May 20, 2012

ty

6:16PM PDT on May 17, 2012

how annoying

8:37AM PDT on May 17, 2012

Thanks

12:37AM PDT on May 17, 2012

In recent years I have heard many angry people, also come across many abusive people - and I look at them, don't react, but think - Don't you have any self-respect? Despite my apparent nonchalance, I find aggressive people very upsetting. Perhaps because I come from a different culture, what raises my blood-pressure is an indolent, couldn't-care-less attitude with regard to customer service or the value of my time - the time they are wasting.
It's a good thing that more often there are many quietly spoken, angels around one.

1:39PM PDT on May 16, 2012

all very interesting

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