I woke up this morning to a cacophony of barks. My dog was leading a pack of strays cheering a fight between a jogger and a motorist. The cause for the fight was that the jogger did not get out of the way of the car fast enough despite repeated honks.
The jogger informed me later that it is better to “let it rip” and get the anger out your system than stew in impotent rage through the day. He was wrong. Experts say ‘letting it rip’ actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to resolve the situation.
Let’s get this straight: a little anger is good, even if you are the one at the receiving end of a rant. Anger becomes destructive when it gets disruptive and uncontrolled.
Anger brings with it biological changes — the energy hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline shoot up, as does the heart rate and blood pressure. A persistently tense situation can put too much stress on the body and become a heart attack and stroke risk over time.
Experts say men and women have the same anger levels, but socio-cultural reasons prompt them to express it differently. Researchers from St John’s University in New York surveyed 1,300 people between 18 and 90 years and found marked differences in expression. Men were more physically aggressive and impulsive. Women were more resentful, less likely to express their anger, and more prone to indirect aggression — such as writing off people by avoiding them or not speaking to them.
Some people are more hotheaded than others and lose control faster and for a longer period. Anger varies in intensity with people, ranging from mild irritation to raging fury, but if a person’s intensity of reaction to a small trigger is high, he or she should consciously try to adopt coping strategies to stop themselves from tipping over.
Expressing your anger in an assertive as opposed to aggressive way works because unexpressed rage can cause pathological problems such as passive-aggressive behaviour. Simply put, it’ll make you hostile and make you want to get back at people indirectly instead of confronting them head-on.
Just as lashing out at everyone and everything annoying is not healthy, anger turned inward may cause hypertension or depression. Since it is not possible to wish away things or people that irritate you, it makes sense to learn to control your reactions and seek counselling if the aggression starts disrupting your life and the lives of those around you.