There's the waitress who refuses to look in your direction. The oaf who
drifts across the highway without using his blinker. And the cheerful, recorded
voice that draws you deeper and deeper into voice-mail hell.
The most minor annoyance can send us into a fury. But have you ever stopped
to think why we get angry? What is anger, anyway?
Do you insist on rising at five to run each morning, even when your back is aching, black ice coats the streets, and your wife beseeches you to stay in bed? Do you only feel good when you’re training for triathlons? Is eating merely a way to replenish for the next race? Then you, my Spandex-clad friend, may have an exercise addiction.
"Anger is a natural emotion," says Charles D. Spielberger, PhD, a
research professor of psychology at the University of South Florida who has
studied anger for 25 years. "There is nothing abnormal about it."
Anger might be normal, but it does affect you physically. When you get
enraged during a traffic jam or at your kid's soccer game, your hormone levels
increase, your breathing quickens, your pulse and blood pressure soar, you
start to sweat, and your pupils dilate.
Basically, your body is gearing up for action. This is the "fight"
part of the "fight or flight" response. Spielberger says anger has an
evolutionary advantage: "Fear and rage are common to animals, too, because
it helps them to fight and survive."
The problem is that, nowadays, anger isn't always so useful. Most of us
don't run into man-eating tigers standing in line at the DMV.
The physical effects of anger on your body can be lasting. Some studies have
shown a connection between anger and high blood pressure, depression, and heart
disease. One study found that people highly prone to anger are three times as
likely to have a heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease as less angry
So what's the solution? Should you cork up your anger or regularly blow your
stack? Experts say neither. Whether you hold it in or explode in a rage,
frequent feelings of intense anger may pose the same health risks.
The key is to make your anger constructive. Spielberger says that the first
step is self-awareness. Don't allow yourself to fly into a rage. Instead, be
conscious of your anger. Stay in control. It's the only way to figure out
exactly what is making you angry.
Once you can identify the real problem, you can try to solve it rationally
instead of getting pointlessly furious. If you're angry with someone, talk
about it in an assertive, but never aggressive, way. If a certain situation
sparks your anger, learn how to prepare for it -- or better yet, avoid it -- in