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Why Managing Anger Leads to a Healthier Life

While watching the new Netflix show Beef, I couldn’t help but be entranced by the expressions of anger (among a whole lot of other intense emotions). The main protagonists and actors of Beef–Steven Yeun and Ali Wong–were so good in their craft that I couldn’t help but become immersed in their visceral experiences of rage and vengeance. It goes to show that anger is a universal human emotion and also, that it is a powerful one. If anger isn’t handled appropriately, it may have destructive results for us and those closest to us.

In fact, anger triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. The adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The brain shunts blood away from the gut and towards the muscles, in preparation for physical exertion. Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration increase, the body temperature rises and the skin perspires. This automatic response may be helpful in some circumstances, but the constant flood of stress chemicals and associated metabolic changes that go with ongoing unmanaged anger can eventually cause harm to many different systems of the body. Some associated harmful links include headaches, digestion problems, high blood pressure, skin problems, and increased anxiety and depression. Some studies have even shown long-term unmanaged anger associated with higher risk of stroke and heart attacks.

So how do you deal with situations when you’re in a fit of rage? Some helpful ways to deal with anger are common sense: if you feel out of control, walk away from the situation temporarily, until you cool down. Others include a regular use of coping skills like physical exercise (go for a run or play a sport), talking to someone you trust about how you’re feeling, and relaxation exercises (like diaphragmatic breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation). Ultimately, recognizing and accepting anger as a normal part of life, learning conflict resolution skills, assertiveness training, as well as identifying the trigger, and creating a buffer before you go from 1 to 100 in seconds are all helpful tools.

I think we all desire healthier connections and relationships with others. Our appropriate expression and management of anger helps protect our relationships with our children, partners, family, and friends. Conflicts and anger are an inevitable part of life, but it’s about how we deal with our anger and resolve the conflicts that makes us that much stronger as individuals and in our relationships.

Kevin Lee, PsyD

Clinical Psychologist

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