All The Rage

Are the weather, the credit crunch and life's other little annoyances driving you mad? Find out how getting angry can affect your health.

Throwing a tantrum used to be the reserve of toddlers. But in these trying times, more and more grown-ups are losing their cool and flying into an angry rage on a weekly, or even daily, basis.

With the economic climate the way it is, it's not surprising we're feeling a bit frazzled! Consequently, it doesn't take much to make our blood boil. Minor irritants and frustrations can cause us to storm out of the hair salon, slam the phone down on call centres and hurl verbal abuse in the street.

Phillip Hodgson, a fellow for the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy refers to it as 'recession and irritation'.

"There's no point in getting worked up about something you can't control," he says. "In the words of that old prayer, 'God grant me the wisdom to know the difference between things I can change, and those I can't'.

"We should try to work on the relevant bits," he advises. "Many people have steam coming out of their heads about the behaviour of government, bankers, the market, and yes, even God.

"But we're not going to have a lot of input into any of the above," he says wryly.

Anger is a natural feeling everyone experiences when they feel frustrated, hurt, rejected or hostile. It varies in intensity, ranging from mild irritation to wanting to tear our hair out, to violent rage.

And it's not always healthy. Just like other emotions, feelings of anger can have a knock-on effect on the rest of our body.

"It's bad to be constantly angry," warns Hodgson, "Because it will raise your blood pressure. But it's also bad to constantly hold your anger in as that will also raise your blood pressure!"

He admits it's a bit of a Catch-22 scenario.

"I think distraction helps. Just pause a moment and look at it on another scale. If you say, 'I'm incredibly angry because a person in a Ferrari just almost drove me off the road', you're very angry!

"On the other hand, supposing I'd just won the lottery, would I feel differently about this? In other words, can you re-contextualize it?"

People deal with difficult situations in different ways. These can vary from reaching for a stiff drink, taking a walk around the block or punching their fist in the air.

But it seems the old adage of taking a deep breath and counting to ten does help.

"You need to control your breathing deliberately," says Hodgson. "Not by breathing more heavily as that will lead to hyper-ventilation. This in turn will lead to worse anxiety and the beginnings of a panic attack.

"And you don't want that!"

Hodgson says we need to try to breathe at a rhythm which is equivalent to a seven second cycle.

"You breathe in... one thousand and one, one thousand and two... one thousand and three. You breathe out... one thousand and four, one thousand and five, one thousand and six. And you pause. One thousand and seven. Then you breathe in again... one thousand and one."

"And that's how slowly you should breathe in order to get your metabolism back to normal, to rest."

When we're really P-d off, physiologically, it takes quite a few minutes to calm down.

"You've got to reverse the adrenilisation of your blood stream," says Hodgson."Cortizol is being injected and you've got that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.

"You're highly aroused, the blood's run to the surface, your big muscles are ready for action to fight or to run away. And your brain's almost shut down to one single thought which is 'Kill!

"In other words, you're not being very rational. You've gone into pure animal mode in a sense," adds Hodgson.

But when our heart starts beating faster and the adrenaline's pumping, it's not all bad. We have a system of anger for a purpose. It's a reaction and a healthy response to enable us to deal with threats.

"If you go home and find your partner in bed with somebody else, you should be angry," says Hodgson. "If you're not going to get angry about that, what are you going to get angry about?!

"And this is what anger's for. It's there for a reason."

In a way, it helps us to be truthful. We believe what people say when they lose control. It's not thought out.

But it needs to be kept in check.

"You don't want to get into a fist fight on the street just because somebody's stepped on your foot," says Hodgson.

This is when we're in danger of getting kicked into a child-like state. The world isn't going quite the way we want it.

"There are only so many temper tantrums you can have before you start asking yourself whether it's really doing your health any good. Who's it helping?"

So the next time you feel like throwing your toys out of the pram, take a deep breath and look at our tips for keeping a cool head.


Dr Annabel Bentley, assistant medical director for BUPA, says: "Short term anger isn't that harmful.

"The danger is when it becomes more harmful and starts to change some people's behaviour. They become more aggressive and even prone to violence or bullying around them.

"It's normal to feel anger, but it's then what you do with it."

What does Bentley recommend to stop yourself from exploding?

"Find the right help, depending on the situation.

"Simple self-help tips are breathing and relaxation and people can go to anger management courses to help with that sort of thing.

"The main impact of anger is when people get significantly aggressive enough to become violent. Some of the long-term affects can be from injuries like punching the wall.

"People need to learn how to handle their emotions at different stages of their life and we're there to help."


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