Go Forth in Fury: How Getting Angry Will Improve Your Health
Some time ago I watched a Colbert Report which informed me that research shows people who get angry live longer than those who don’t.* Being an angry person myself, I was fueled by Stephen’s appeal to my confirmation bias and decided to investigate.
As it turns out Stephen was right and researchers have apparently long been investigating the various dimensions of anger. In fact, to my utter delight increasing the length of your lifespan is not the only benefit of getting real riled up. The consensus of these anger studies seems to be that expressing your fury causes a rise in optimism, a boost in confidence, improvements in interpersonal relationships, a reduction in the experience of physical pain, and a decrease in cardiovascular stress. On the contrary, anger suppression has been shown to exacerbate the experience of pain and increase stress on the cardiovascular system while worsening the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Anger alerts us to existing issues and contrary to its negative connotations it is a healthy, exciting, and powerful motivating force that ignites positive change by inspiring people to act and problem solve. Physiologically, its expression is similar to power posing (i.e. throwing your arms up in the air, taking up a lot of space, and assuming a dominant position) in that it triggers a release of testosterone and causes a drop in the stress hormone cortisol. Incidentally, these hormonal changes are also implicated in feelings of sexual arousal and are thus one reason behind why many people find watching their lovers getting riled up to be extremely sexy. Perhaps contrary to what we might want to believe, studies also show that anger can effectively thwart aggression.
Unlike feelings of anxiety, disgust, and sadness which prompt avoidance and cause us to embrace weakness while retreating from what we deem unpleasant, anger focuses the mind and mood in highly refined ways, spurring creative problem solving and goal-oriented optimism that drives us to achieve. In propelling us towards challenges we would otherwise have avoided and causing us to push others into doing what we want, anger triggers a rewarding feedback loop in the brain by bringing us closer to attaining our goals.
*Anger: A Definition – Anger is a feeling of strong displeasure and antagonism. An unpleasant reaction to a demand, belief, or unmet expectation, anger is typically composed of thinking negative thoughts, feeling frustration, disappointment, contempt and rage, and acting violently, including yelling, fist shaking and the like.
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