Anger: Healing from Within
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
- Practice tolerance
- 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
Houses of Healing
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