Health benefits of anger? Are there any?
Ask a mom if things are going well in her marriage. Chances are, she’ll say yes. But, give her a glass of wine and ask her if she ever gets angry at her husband. She’ll likely snort that Chardonnay right out her nose. Because the answer to that question is so obviously, “Yes!”
Ready to explode? Check.
If you’re a mom you know this already. We don’t just get mad at our spouses. Anger rises at our kids. And we get mad at our mothers. At the driver who cuts us off at the stoplight. Moreover, we get mad at ourselves.
Even when we may want to try to hide it (or feel pressured to hide it for fear of being labeled a “bad mom” or “bad wife”), the rage comes out.
A sore throat from yelling at her kids
So it was refreshing when the manager of a local furniture store apologized to me as she rushed in late to her shop.
“Sorry,” she said, a plastic pharmacy bag dangling from her wrist. “I had to stop at the drugstore.”
“Sick?” I asked.
“No,” she rasped. “I was screaming so loudly at my kids this morning that I lost my voice.”
Rage. Fury. Ire. Wrath. Spleen. Petulance. The English language has dozens of words to describe an emotion that all of us feel keenly, whether we express it or not.
No one likes to get mad. At least I don’t. But have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, a little anger may be good for you?
The downside of anger
There’s an abundance of health studies that suggest that feeling constant and continuous anger is not good for your health.
One University of North Carolina study, published in the highly prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, showed that men and women who possessed the most anger traits were as much as seven times more likely to develop coronary heart disease.
Another study in the same journal associated our ire (and other negative emotions) with an increased risk of heart attacks.
Yet another study of anger management in 54 married couples conducted by Dr. Sybil Carrère, a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Child Nursing at the University of Washington, found that women who could not control their rage, or who got angry more frequently than they would have liked, had feelings of dissatisfaction in their marriages, faster heartbeats, and more trouble decompressing physically afterward.
According to Carrère, this evidence suggests that women’s cardiovascular health could be jeopardized by frequent anger.
But what about the health benefits of anger?
So, we’re not only bad moms and bad wives because we get angry, but we’re killing ourselves because of our anger?
Not so fast.
Take a deep breath.
There is more to the story.
Despite research that anger is bad for your health, some scientists have found otherwise.
Two Brazilian cardiologists, who did a thorough literature review, have recently cautioned against assuming that all this emotion is bad for your heart. They argue that the data linking anger with heart disease is not high enough quality to draw hard and fast conclusions.
Common sense suggests that a little anger can go a long way. Psychologist Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., believes that anger is information and that women need to pay attention when they feel anger. (Read more about Harriet Lerner in this article on my website).
In her seminal book, The Dance of Anger, Lerner argues that anger can be empowering, a signal that our needs aren’t being met, and a catalyst towards positive change. In other words, there are tangible health benefits of anger.
When anger spurs positive action, pushing you to leave an unhealthy relationship or quit your unsatisfying job, or get help for an addicted loved one, it is definitely healthy.
5 health benefits of anger:
- Motivation to make positive change
- Catalyst to stand up for yourself, a loved one, or an important cause
- Insight into what’s not working well in your life, or in your relationships
- Motivation for others (like the furniture seller’s children) to treat you with more respect
- Protection for you in a dangerous situation, and keep others from causing you harm
Beyond anger: finding a better way
Stifling anger is a common course of action, especially for women. We tend to hold in our anger instead of expressing it, choosing to self-implode instead of to make trouble.
“I just feel clenched,” one young woman who stops talking and feels herself “shutting off” when she gets angry, explained to me.
“If I’m really angry I just turn off. I get this tight feeling. I feel like people don’t understand me no matter how hard I try … It creates a divide between me and other people,” she says.
Instead of suppressing her feelings, this woman is trying to be more honest and open about her negative emotions.
And therein lies the solution: Resolving the root of anger, fixing what is broken from the inside out, can help eliminate the damage our minds and bodies feel when we are too angry too often.
Now try this: Take a pen or a pencil and a piece of paper or your journal and make a list of 7 things that make you feel upset.
Write as quickly as you can. Don’t think too much about it and don’t censor yourself.
Your list might look something like:
- My daughter throwing her lunchbox on the floor instead of bringing it into the kitchen
- Political candidates promote government overreach, trying to force medical procedures on children or adults
- Not enough time to do my creative work
- Forgetting to eat, which gives me low blood sugar
- People idling their car engines
- Someone mansplaining his ideas to me
- The mess in my house, ugh!
Now that you’ve identified 7 anger-inducing issues, pick one or two that bother you the most and spend 15 minutes brainstorming solutions.
For example, you can find a creative way to reward your daughter for bringing her lunchbox into the kitchen without being reminded, donate to a health freedom organization in your region or state, schedule time every day to draw or play music or write creatively, purchase some healthy snacks and keep them in your office and your car, get involved in climate change activism and implement more sustainable living strategies in your own life, spend less time with mansplainers, hire a housecleaner.
Share your brainstorm with a friend or your spouse.
Choose one or two action items from your brainstorm and commit to implementing them this week.
And if that doesn’t work to kick your fury to the curb?
I recommend installing a heavy bag in the garage.
Every time you feel the tension boiling over, you can punch the heck out of it.
Heart-healthy and anger-relieving at the same time.
What about you? Do you see anger as positive or negative? Are your feelings ruining your life? What helps you reframe those negative emotions? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.
Published: October 28, 2019
Last update: April 15, 2021