How to Let Go of Anger Once and For All
And according to at least one study, AWS might actually be contagious: Researchers at China's Beihang University recently discovered that anger is the fastest-spreading emotion on one social media network in the country; people were much more likely to repost or comment on things that made their blood boil than on those that conveyed joy. One reason for this may be our misguided belief that lashing out will purge us of negative emotions. In fact, it can just make the anger wheel spin faster. "When people become angry, the natural response is to do something aggressive: punch something, kick something, say something mean," says Brad Bushman, PhD, professor of communication and psychology at the Ohio State University. "And after venting, about 75 percent of people say they feel better, which is right—they do. But what they don't realize is that the good feeling is fleeting and reinforces the destructive behavior."
Staying in this mad-at-the-world spiral can do more than just alienate coworkers, friends and innocent strangers. When you feel you've just had it, your blood pressure shoots up, triggering the body's fight-or-flight response, and in turn activating hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. And when these hormones are chronically flooding your system, they can do nasty things to your health: weaken your immune response, trigger chronic headaches and cause inflammation. Researchers have even found that people who can't control their anger heal from wounds more slowly than their mellower counterparts.
So, fine, getting mad isn't the answer—but I wasn't having much success curing my AWS with socially acceptable relaxation techniques like "walking it off" or taking 10 deep breaths. It turns out, though, that such remedies do work—I was just going about them wrong, according to anger management specialist Ronald Potter-Efron, PhD, author of Healing the Angry Brain. "People assume they're calm after 30 seconds of deep breathing," he says. "But our bodies don't recover that quickly. Though we may feel a pseudo calm, most people need at least 20 minutes to an hour to truly let the emotion pass. And as long as we're still amped up, it's easy to retrigger the anger that's just beneath the surface." The solution is to use your cooldown time to figure out exactly what's at the root of your annoyance. "In many cases, people can fairly quickly pinpoint the real issue if given time to think it through clearly," says Potter-Efron.
Next: Retrain your brain