Why Anger Is the New Sex
Switch off the Housewives they're making you crazy. Joanne Chen on how to keep your temper in an angry age.
WHAT'S MAKING YOU MAD continued...
And then there's the media. News networks, once reliably neutral and unemotional, now inflame public sentiment with sensationalized coverage of the conflict du jour, be it General McChrystal's attacks on Obama's team or the latest Tea Party shoutfest. Broadcasters, embattled by competition from the Internet, now cater to niche audiences, making the nightly news feel like a personal attack. How else to explain the transformation of MSNBC from an outlet for unbiased news coverage to one whose sole purpose seems to be feeding the flames? Or the fact that instead of Campbell Brown's levelheaded reporting at 8 p.m., CNN will be serving up one of politics' most divisive hotheads, Eliot Spitzer? Clearly, if you want people to tune in to the news these days, you need to give them something to shout about.
It's as though news divisions have stolen a page from reality TV - once just a simple pleasure, but now a major force feeding the anger in the air, with ratings through the roof. Any TV producer knows that a heated smackdown between two women gets more viewers - and blogs - buzzing than a hot tryst, so we're treated to scenes like the one on last year's Real Housewives of New Jersey season finale, in which a wife furiously flipped over a table at a local restaurant. Then there's Jillian Michaels' vein-popping screaming sessions with charges on The Biggest Loser, a show so popular that Michaels has been awarded a second reality show all her own.
And now that entire websites and publications cover celebrities' every move, star-studded feuds abound. Angelina vs. Jen! Jon vs. Kate! Naomi Campbell vs. fill-in-the-blank service person! The more feuding we see, the more we accept and mimic it in our daily lives, says Potegal.
Luckily, we can protect ourselves from the anger influx. Eddie Reece, an Atlanta-based psychotherapist, differentiates between bad anger (marked by yelling, fuming, and flying fists) and good anger (which requires confidence and maturity, and takes the form of controlled communication). Of course, the answer doesn't lie in smothering your feelings, but in how you communicate them. Says Reece, "Anger can be the most intimate emotion two people share." By learning to express it thoughtfully and responsibly, you'll not only be calmer and healthier, you'll be happier, too. For more, check out seven expert-approved tension defusers, below.
FINDING PEACE IN AN ANGRY WORLD
Turn off the TV. In a University of Maryland study, people who chose reading over watching TV were more likely to describe themselves as "very happy" than those who did the opposite, watching TV more than reading.
Live in 3-D. Save e-mails and cell-phone calls for appointments and reservations, never for heart-to-hearts. And always keep Twitter-talk light and conflict-free.
Breathe. Delay responding to an e-mail or text message that annoys you. Take five breaths; call when you have time to talk calmly. Better yet, take a night to sleep on it. Never, ever send a work e-mail in anger.
Sleep. "Irritability is a symptom of insomnia," notes Nancy Molitor, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Northwestern University. The message: Snooze more and you'll be in better control of your emotions - and your tongue.
Be grateful. Make a daily list of everything you're grateful for as a way to dispel anger, which Novaco says is the "absence of appreciation."
Move. "The chemicals released during anger can feel like muscular tension that needs releasing," says Rich Pfeiffer, Ph.D., a Sedona, Arizona-based psychologist. Hit the gym to keep your limbs loose and your mind open.
Take action. Anger strikes when we feel powerless. Whether you're outraged by disease in Africa or the latest eco-disaster, join a volunteer group to do something about it. Your mood will improve, and you may even have an impact on the problem.