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Anger-obics Can Make Anger 'Work Out'

How to transform negative energy into a positive tool for anger management.

WebMD Feature

Anger-obics is not a crazed form of cardio engendered by being cut-off on the freeway, opening the credit card bill, or being unjustly accused by the boss. It's a set of techniques to defuse your anger and help you find a creative solution to the "flashpoints" we all encounter every day. But it's only one way to examine and deal with this volatile emotion.

Anger Is a Set of Responses

"Anger is a basic physiological response to a threat," Lisa Tener, MS, a creativity coach and co-author, with Jane Middleton-Moz, MS, and Peaco Todd, MA, of Good and Mad: Transform Anger Using Mind, Body, Soul and Humor, tells WebMD. "When you are threatened, cortisol and adrenaline flood your system, the blood is rushed out to the arms and legs so they can punch or run, which means blood leaves your brain so you can't think as well."

W. Robert Nay, PhD, a private psychotherapist, clinical associate professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, and author of Taking Charge of Anger: How to Resolve Conflict, Sustain Relationships, and Express Yourself Without Losing Control, tells WebMD anger is also a function of unrealized expectations. "I could have a whole practice based on how angry people get on the Beltway," he says. "Their expectations are not met there."

Men and boys more often express anger as aggression, Nay says. They are more likely to turn fear and sadness into anger. "Look at girls," he says. "One may say she is scared and the other will continue the conversation about the fear. Boys will change the subject."

Anger also may have genetic components. Studies show certain areas of the brain produce rage in animals. But the physical propensity is still under study. If you think you have your "dad's temper," it may be a result of how your dad acted, not a genetic legacy.

"A lot of anger is learned," Tener says. "We develop the anger styles we saw as children. "It's not the anger itself but the expression of it that can be dangerous."

"I say childhood is portable," Karen Salmansohn tells WebMD. The author of 25 new "edgy" books, Salmansohn also wrote The Burn Your Anger Book, which invites readers to incinerate it page by page when they are "burning mad."

Anger Management Through 'Staging'

Instead of going ballistic, postal, or flying off the handle, Nay urges us to understand the anatomy of our anger. For instance, instead of full-blown rage, anger usually manifests in stages:

  • Passive aggressive. The angry person quietly withholds whatever the object of the anger wants. If the boss blames her, she stalls on a project. If a spouse wants to talk, he clams up.
  • Sarcasm. The angry person may escalate to sarcasm. If the other person complains, the angry person may turn it around: "Well, you can sure take a joke."
  • Cold anger. This is the silent treatment or minimal response. Maybe the angry person leaves the room.
  • Hostility. This is the toe-tapper in line, the feisty customer, or the time bomb waiting to go off at dinner.
  • Aggression. This is the stage where the angry person acts out physically, yelling, threatening, or laying on hands.

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