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Overcoming Anger: Healing from Within
Managing Anger

The newspaper is packed with the stories: a parent attacks a Little League coach, another freeway shooting, an employee 'goes postal.' But when Dr. Redford Williams says, "anger kills," he doesn't just mean the more blatant examples. He's talking about the temper flares that many of us experience on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. According to Williams, it's like taking a little bit of arsenic every day. It may not kill you now, but over a lifetime it could be lethal. Thirty or forty years from now, you could find yourself at risk of an early death due to health complications associated with anger, cynicism and hostility.

A recent study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association shows that a hostile person is about three times as likely to have a heart attack than someone less prone to anger. Hostile people are also at higher risk for stroke, and holding in anger may suppress your immune system. However, most insidious is the subtler way that anger corrupts our lives -- by driving away others. This isolation can lead to a downward spiral of reduced social support and an increase of risky behaviors like smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and overeating.

In their bestseller, Anger Kills, Redford Williams, MD, and his wife Virginia Williams, PhD, lay out some strategies for coping with, and reducing our hostile impulses. To begin, they suggest keeping a 'hostility log' where you record the time and scene an incident occurred. Note down your thoughts, what you did, and your level of involvement. Taking formal notes of specific instances encourages introspection and can make you more self-aware. The written record can also help you identify patterns of behavior. You can decide later if your response was appropriate.

The Williams suggest you review each entry with the "I Am Worth It" model in mind:

  • I     Is this matter Important to me?
  • A    Are my thoughts and feelings Appropriate?
  • M   Is the situation Modifiable?
  • Worth It    Is taking action Worth It?

One case study in their book, who found himself enraged about a radio story on the drug trade, was able to re-channel his anger, and wrote a blistering letter to his congressman detailing his concerns.

After you begin reexamining your own hostile behavior, the book describes many strategies you can try to help manage your anger. One is to avoid those situations or people that set you off. If traffic is your nemesis, try to structure your day or work schedule so that you don't have to be on the road at rush hour. Similarly, if waiting in line sets you off, plan your errands for off-peak times.

Diffusing or deflecting anger is another strategy. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred." That's still sound advice today, and can give you the time to decide, "Is this situation worth my continued involvement?" Reason with yourself, and if necessary, simply say, "Stop!" Whether voiced or silent, it frequently helps deflect hostile thoughts and urges.

But what if your anger is justified and appropriate? Real injustices certainly exist, and sometimes asserting yourself is important. Controlling your anger doesn't mean ignoring injustices to others either -- righteous indignation has its place. Without Rosa Parks and Gandhi, the world would be a very different place. When you determine your anger is justified, and the situation merits addressing, try these steps:

  • Make a simple assertion. Sometimes that's all that is needed. "Excuse me, but the line forms to the left."
  • Describe the misbehavior. Try to be specific about what behavior you want changed. Avoid 'you always,' or 'you never,' and strive for less categorical statements. "I found the joke you told offensive," works better than, "You are always so rude."
  • State the consequences. If the person to whom you are speaking is unwilling to change their behavior, be clear and specific, and limit yourself to what you can follow through on. "If you can't stop telling me how to cook this meal, then you'll have to leave the kitchen."

Finally, the Williams offer help in moving beyond habitual or unhealthy anger.

  • Care for a pet
  • Engage in community service
  • Practice tolerance
  • Forgive
  • Laugh at yourself

All of these tactics can help increase your empathy, and decrease levels of stress, cynicism and hostility. And that can go a long way to making every day healthier and happier.

Program Description
Managing Anger
Robin Casarjian
Houses of Healing
Tell Me More
Help YourSelf

Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

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