Looney Tunes’ iconic Marvin the Martian, frustrated by Bugs Bunny in his efforts to blow up the Earth, quickly walked away saying, “You make me very, very angry.” He gave kids an entertaining lesson in how to handle heated confrontations.
A refresher course for adults would be a good prescription. How people handle their anger can make a big difference to their personal health and more.
Anger, itself, is not always a negative thing. Anger can be a natural and helpful emotional response to perceived wrongs. For example, getting angry can be very motivating. Individuals can use their anger to break a bad habit, and groups can work together in the same way. The #MeToo movement has brought collective anger against injustice together to achieve social change.
But mishandled anger is decidedly unhealthy – and probably not good for the well-being of everyone around it.
Teaching children the tools of anger control isn’t just about stifling their outbursts. Researchers have found that children who lack the ability to deal with frustrations tend to have more problematic relationships in their adult life. They also have more physical and mental health problems.
Studies have also shown that people who are chronically angry suffer from higher rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, headaches, skin disorders and digestive problems.
Dr. Chris Aiken of Wake Forest University School of Medicine is an expert in natural and lifestyle approaches to health promotion. “Within two hours of an outburst of anger, the risk of having a heart attack doubles,” he says.
Anger increases the risk of stroke. If you are unlucky enough to have aneurysms in the arteries of the brain, it is better to “keep calm and carry on”. One study found a six times higher risk of a breakup following an outburst of anger.
Research has also shown that angry people get sick more frequently due to the negative effects of stress on their immune system.
What can you do when you are angry? First, take a hint from Marvin The Martian and leave the area. Appeasement must come first. Second, determine what is causing the anger. Get to the bottom of the problem. It is recommended that you speak with someone – a trusted friend or a trained professional – to validate your thinking. Third, develop an action plan that solves problems or develops coping mechanisms.
Incorporating comedy into anger management is a strategy worth mentioning. The evidence shows it works. Another children’s program, Sesame Street, was shaped by psychologists keen to apply research to skits performed by puppeteers. Kermit the Frog had the kids laughing with his outrageous tirade about Cookie Monster for devouring a happy face.
Children’s shows are, by design, intended to be entertaining. But the fact that laughing, happy children learn better than disengaged children has got others thinking about how to use laughter with adults who need to know more about more serious issues.
Climate change scientists, unhappy with the slow pace of action, have adopted comedy as a tactic.
A group of comedians have come together to form the Climate Comedy Cohort. They acknowledge the research linking anger to comedy to motivate change. “Comedy is particularly persuasive and commands attention when it comes to serious issues like the climate crisis,” they note.
Their work offers audiences a levity – a good thing in itself. But their ultimate goal, they say, is “to harness humor as a strategy to change the climate narrative from catastrophic to ‘we’ve got this!’ – and changing the way people see their role in clean energy.
The next time your anger flares up, it’s good to know you have options.
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Harvard Medical School. For more than 40 years, he specialized in gynecology, devoting his practice to the formative issues of women’s health.