Anger Management for a healthier, happier you…

Published on 25 September 2020 by Adam Leigh


Who is feeling angry? Who wants to rail at mounting prohibitions and diminishing social contact? Who wants to scream that our PM actually told the nation in his broadcast “a stitch in time saves nine” when most people are prevented from visiting their granny to teach her to suck eggs? Who wants to punch the wall because their children are grappling with how best to enjoy life when so many fun aspects have been removed? Who wants to cuff recalcitrant non-mask wearing, non-rule of six-respecting party-throwing, lawbreakers who seem unwilling to accept our collective challenges? Who wants to force-vaccinate protesting conspiracy-theory mongers who blame 5G for the state of the world and the performance of the England cricket team?

Sadly, I am particularly inept at anger. I lose my temper rarely and the spontaneous outpouring of irritation just sounds faintly ridiculous. Recently, I asserted myself at the dinner table with a brief tirade of fatherly authority and was met with silence followed by prolonged laughter. 

Right now though, it is easy to feel angry. Last week, I was called a choice expression (fornicating self-pleasurer to be precise) by a van driver who did not appreciate my road positioning. I’d be the first to admit that I am rubbish driver, but the reaction seemed excessive and fuelled by bilious hatred that was disproportionate to my road sense for a right-hand turn. Why so angry?

Luke Skywalker was told by his dad, Darth Vader, in Star Wars “you have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.” The evil of the dark side is supposedly the corollary of a major strop and it is becoming much more popular.  In the ‘Future of Healthcare’supplement in ‘The Times’ on Tuesday, a global study reported that of employees assessing their mental health, 32% reported feeling angry. The challenge it how to positively channel this unquenchable sense of frustration and irritation that the perilous world around us catalyses. 

The Old Testament is often seen as examples of a vengeful deity constantly irritated by the failings of his creations. Ask Noah. (Significant carpentry required to keep afloat.) Ask Lot. (Wife turned to pillar of salt for turning behind her when politely asked not to.) Ask Moses. (Always reprimanding his people for ignoring divine instructions, like when they made that blingy Golden Calf.) Yet religious texts are also a consistent warning against its destructive nature: ‘a fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.’ (Proverbs 29:11)

Classical civilisation is replete with systematic stroppiness. In Greek Mythology there are even deities that are its embodiment. The Erinyes are the Goddesses of Revenge and Retribution. Better known as ‘Furies’, they were the Kardashians of ancient Athens – three sisters best not crossed with self-explanatory names: Alecto (‘the angry’) Maegaera (‘the grudging’) and Tisiphone (‘the avenger’). 

The first word in Homer’s ‘Iliad’, the starting point of Western Literature is ‘rage’ as we learn about the wrath of Achilles and the countless deaths engendered by the unravelling of his anger against the Trojans. Is his ire noble or just destructive? (And why does the last sentence sounds like an exam question?)

The Greeks (Aristotle and Hippocrates) pioneered the theory of Four Humours which underpinned medical thinking well into the Middle Ages. The theory was that the body was made up of four main components that had to be balanced for someone to stay healthy. These were liquids in the body – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. They corresponded with the seasons and moods (melancholic, choleric, sanguine and phlegmatic). If you are getting lost, just remember, the more bile you produce supposedly the angrier you felt. Yet in reality we know now that bile aids the digestion of lipids in the small intestine, so actually is necessary and beneficial to our well-being. Can the same be said of its accompanying humour of anger? 

Freud saw anger as a displacement – if you have a bad day in the office and shout at your children when you get home, in reality your anger is not directed at them but an invisible colleague from earlier on. It is not just an emotional response but a physiological one too – hormones are released and if you are feeling particularly aggressive, you change your natural posture and ‘square up’ to someone for fight (Not me, I am a bona fide coward.) Animals when threatened by a predator, hiss or bare their fangs as a means of self-preservation.

This can be dangerous for your health. People who have had one heart attack are more at risk of a second, according to a recent study in the ‘European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing,’ if they are sarcastic or bad-tempered. The research followed 2,321 heart attack survivors and concluded that working out which were ‘hostile’ could help medical staff identify the extra risk. The clue might be if they were puce-faced and shouting at the catering staff, but I am no doctor.

There is unquestionably more anger prevalent in our everyday lives. We are denied social contact, we are served by inadequate leaders and hatred is amplified by the unfettered channels of social media. Yet, this may be an opportunity for a positive contribution professionally. Lest we forget, when Bruce Banner loses it and becomes ‘The Incredible Hulk’, he still always fights the baddies.

I am not going to suggest a collective anger management course. Rather, it strikes me that excessive irritation can actually be used to create greater professional purpose. The world seems unfair at the moment, so don’t be cowed but develop a resilience to come up with strategies that generate creative adrenalin. Businesses have taken the initial lockdown anger (and fear) and developed ingenuity and innovation to make them sustainable in a post-Covid world. We now shop differently, eat out with greater care and conduct business more flexibly. This would not have happened if we stayed angry.

Billy Conolly once said “before you judge a man walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares, he’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes”. In other words, calm yourself and turn that dismay into some form of positive behaviour. These days, banging the table and shouting at an employee is rightly frowned upon and also looks pretty silly on Zoom.  Take the emotion out of your frustration and fear. The best ideas will come in that moment when the red mists part and you have a new perspective on an obscured view.

I am sure you will agree with everything I have written. And if you don’t, you know what you can do. In fact, you have irritated me now.