There’s no doubt that 2020 was a challenging emotional year—for you and your clients—and the challenges continue in 2021. But as we grapple with change and seek new ways to move forward, doesn’t it all sometimes just make you mad? Raymond Novaco, a psychology professor at the University of California at Irvine with expertise in anger assessment and treatment, calls modern times an “anger incubator” (Chang 2020).
The truth is that anger is a normal human emotion, part of both our lives and our work. And while we instinctively want our clients to train happy, understanding and leveraging angry feelings can have some positive results.
Bad to Be Mad?
So is there really an upside to anger? According to Moshe Ratson, MBA, MS, a licensed marriage and family therapist, this emotion offers many benefits, from energizing us and motivating us to solve problems to leading to self-improvement and, surprisingly, optimism. That’s good news for those who also wish to improve their health and fitness.
“[Anger] can encourage us to focus on what we hope to achieve,” he says. “When we are angry, we often feel positive about our ability to change the situation, empowering us to take action and move from an undesirable position to a desirable one” (Ratson 2017).
Sounds good, right? But it’s not easy to have hard feelings. That’s especially true for women, who face a kind of “anger discrimination.” The Gender Action Portal (GAP)—a resource created by the Harvard Kennedy school—points to research that shows professional women suffer negative consequences for displays of emotion, such as being angry, in the workplace.
A Tool for Growth
Still, it’s important that we learn to accept and not internalize anger, which can actually be harmful to your health. Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center followed more than 700 people for 12 years and found “significant associations between higher levels of emotion suppression and all-cause as well as cancer-related mortality” (Chapman et al. 2013).
Here’s some expert advice on how to transform anger into a tool that helps build success. These five tips can help us better understand and direct these emotions in our own lives and more fully understand them in the lives of those with whom we work.
1. Redirect the Energy
When you feel angry about something, author Peter Economy recommends directing your energy toward a task. “Channel your emotions toward something positive. Run that extra mile. Complete that project you’ve put off for days . . . Your productivity knows no bounds,” he says.
2. Channel Your Anger
“Anger can change the world,” the American Psychological Association notes, citing the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements (DeAngelis 2003). Margarita Tartakovsky, a writer with a master’s degree in clinical psychology, agrees. “While anger can be fiery and volatile, it also can be productive and effective . . . anger can be a creative tool,” she says.
3. Listen to the Message
“See your anger as information,” says Tartakovsky. “What is your anger trying to communicate to you? Maybe your anger tells you that someone has disrespected you and has spoken to you in a demeaning way,” she said. “Your anger can then inspire you to talk to that person (in a clear, kind manner) and maintain your boundary.”
4. Give Yourself a Break
It’s a pretty volatile world. Novaco recommends that sometimes you need to step away, insulate yourself from the things that rile you up (like the media) and let yourself be distracted by positive alternatives (Chang 2020).
See also: Body Image and Social Media
5. Move Away from Anger!
Exercise can play a key role in anger management—for adults and children. You probably already know this to be true in practice, and research backs it up. A review study published in Acta Scientific Medical Sciences concluded that “physical exercise can be implemented as a way of coping mechanism in order to manage the anger” (Malhotra 2019).
Anger is natural and manageable, and it can even help us grow personally and socially—think of it as a tool to add to your emotional toolbox for a happier future.
See also: Don’t Let Bad Moods Sabotage You
Brescoll, V.L., & Uhlmann, E.L. 2008. Can an angry woman get ahead?: Status conferral, gender, and expression of emotion in the workplace. Psychological Science, 19 (3).
Chang, E. 2020. Americans are living in a big ‘anger incubator.’ Experts have tips for regulating our rage. The Washington Post. Accessed Oct. 29, 2020: washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/anger-control-protests-masks-coronavirus/2020/06/29/a1e882d0-b279-11ea-8758-bfd1d045525a_story.html.
Chapman, B.P., et al. 2013. Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 75 (4), 381–85.
DeAngelis, T. 2003. When anger’s a plus. American Psychological Association, 34 (3), 44.
Economy, P. 2016. 5 remarkably powerful ways to turn your anger into success. Inc. Accessed Oct. 29, 2020: inc.com/peter-economy/5-remarkably-powerful-ways-to-turn-your-anger-into-success.html.
GAP (Gender Action Portal). 2020. Can an angry woman get ahead? Status, conferral, gender, and expression of emotion in the workplace. Accessed Oct. 29, 2020: gap.hks.harvard.edu/can-angry-woman-get-ahead-status-conferral-gender-and-expression-emotion-workplace.
Malhotra, P. 2019. Exercise and its impact on anger management. Acta Scientific Medical Sciences, 3 (5), 132–37.
Ratson, M. 2017. The value of anger: 16 reasons it’s good to get angry. GoodTherapy.org. Accessed Oct. 29, 2020: goodtherapy.org/blog/value-of-anger-16-reasons-its-good-to-get-angry-0313175.
Tartakovsky, M. 2019. How to channel your anger into productive action. Accessed Oct. 29, 2020: psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-channel-your-anger-into-productive-action/.
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