Have you ever been warned that you shouldn’t get angry? That anger is somehow sinful or prideful?
I think all of us have heard things in our lives like that. I don’t want to get into a deep theological discourse on the pros and cons of anger, but it is worth talking about how it affects your physical health.
What Makes You Angry?
Think for a minute about situations you’ve been in that provoke anger in you.
- Was it someone’s inappropriate comment?
- Were you offended?
- Did someone physically hurt you?
- Did you feel an unusual amount of pressure or anxiety?
- Were you angry at injustice you observed on TV?
- Was it a talk radio host?
- Was someone late for a meeting?
As you were thinking about it, did you notice a change in how you felt? You may have felt a turning in the pit of your stomach, your heart rate speeding up, breathing growing short, maybe tension in your neck or head. Maybe you felt your hands clench or your arms tighten.
Your body was preparing to fight.
The stress hormone, cortisol, was pouring into your system. Adrenaline kicked in. Your pupils narrowed and you became very focused. Anger does that. It’s a very powerful way to achieve focus in your life. Anger isn’t all bad. Some of the greatest social change in history came because someone get angry enough to take action. Life is messy, and not all progress gets made because wise people calmly discuss issues and objectively arrive at agreement. It just doesn’t happen that way. Sometimes people do terrible things and a little righteous anger pushes things back into equilibrium. Even Jesus got so angry that he attacked a roomful of salesmen with a whip (wouldn’t we all like to do that sometimes??).
Dr. Joseph Mercola says, “Feelings of anger may actually help you make better choices — even if you are normally not great at making rational decisions — because anger can make you focus on that which is important, and ignore things that are irrelevant to the task of making a decision.”
One mistake I see people make in regard to anger is calling it a sin. The Bible does not say, “do not angry” It says, “in your anger, do not sin.” Some people just blow up when they are angry and say things that leave permanent scars, especially where children are concerned. That’s not OK. Anger does not give you permission to speak evil, slander, seek revenge, lie, or murder. There are Eastern philosophies that teach that you should suppress anger, but I bet you’ve found that pent-up anger does more harm than good. That’s where I want to go next.
Where To Draw The Line
While anger has some redeeming values that we tend to gloss over (especially in the church), there’s a limit, and your body knows where it is, even if your mind doesn’t.
Let’s talk for a minute about all the biological processes that come along with anger. Like we already mentioned, your body produces adrenaline, cortisol, testosterone (yes, you too, ladies), your muscles tense and your heart rate increases. But your digestion also shuts down. Your arteries contract and harden, and new research indicates that your genes may actually express healthy cell development or disease. We’ve mentioned before that stress may be responsible for as much as 90% of sickness. Anger was meant to serve a purpose and get out, not to stick around for days at a time.
The problem I see too often is that we allow anger to fester, boil, and percolate under the surface in our thinking for years. A friend of mine was recently telling me about his father-in-law, a successful businessman who retired early and has plenty of money to live out his remaining years in comfort. But unresolved anger has been destroying his body for fifty years. He drinks like a sailor, takes a dozen different medications every day, has been in and out of the hospital, and most of his organ have been repaired or replaced. His physical health is a train wreck and the source of it is anger. He’s angry at things that got said to him in high school. He’s angry at family members. He’s angry at the investors that bought out his company. He’s angry at the nightly news (if he were my patient, my prescription for him would start with throwing out his TV). He’s a poster child for what happens when you let anger hang on.
Dr. Mercola describes some of the other physical manifestations of anger:
In the long run, and sometimes even the short term, however, this automatic response to anger can weaken your immune system and lead to a variety of health problems such as:
- Problems with digestion
- Increased anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Skin problems, such as eczema
- Heart attack
Not only that, but anger can lead to other negative emotions like bitterness, hopelessness, futility and overall sadness. Let’s face it — it’s hard to have a good time if you’re holding on to anger.
So, What Do We Do Now?
We can use anger for its intended purpose, but we have to let it subside. How do we do that?
First, forgive. This is one of those things that is so difficult to do, but it’s so necessary. As I’ve mentioned before, withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Forgiving doesn’t condone what the other person did, but it does release you from negative anger that could do more damage than they ever did. I don’t expect you to ever forget what they did, but the goal is not to forget, it’s (as my pastor so eloquently stated) to remember it with peace. Let it go so it can’t keep hurting you.
Second, relax. This is a whole series of articles in itself, so I’ll just mention it here. If you live in the Naples area and you would like to know more about it, make an appointment in my office so we can talk more about it. I have a couple of techniques that I use that are easy to put into practice in your life. Some people pray, others meditate, others exercise. What works for you?
Third, empathize. Try to think about what the other person is thinking, to understand their perspective. Try to put a little distance between you and the problem: how will this moment affect my life in an hour? Tomorrow? Next year? How can I get something positive from this moment? That moves you from a position of being a victim to a position of choosing your future. That’s a huge win!!
Fourth, identify what you fear in this situation. We hate what we fear because it makes us feel threatened or helpless. Try to pick out what is making you feel that way.
Realize this: no one can make you angry. Anger is a choice, even if it is an unconscious or habitual choice. You may be angry at what someone said or did, but anger is always a choice we make. You don’t have to choose anger. So, it’s a choice we can change. And that’s real power.
There’s so much more I could say here, but we’ll save it for another article. Thank you so much for taking this time with me today. I hope it was helpful to you. If it was, please take a minute to share it with your friends.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas