Unrelieved Anger Creates Big Problems
> 3/26/2008 11:34:10 AM

The common perception of the modern citizen, especially he of the urban male variety, as a seething cesspool of accumulated fury may not be so far from the truth. A United Kingdom study reveals that many have been touched by the "problem anger" plague - 1 in 3 report knowing someone who has serious trouble controlling their anger, more than a quarter doubt their own ability to do so, and 64% of those polled believe that people, in general, are "getting angrier." The study goes on to link the condition to violent aggression, physical and mental health problems, and the general breakdown of the family unit. Oh my!

Anger, like anxiety, fatigue, and their fellows on the laundry list of undesirable affects, is a very natural response to many of the stressors that daily life sees fit to throw our way. But when the mind can't appropriately deal with suppressed rage, choosing to forestall explosive fits by compartmentalizing anger over time, its influence bleeds into nearly every facet of one's life and character. In metaphor: a tightly covered pot will eventually boil over showing no concern for the safety of whomever happens to be in its way. Evidence of this anger "epidemic" is widespread. It serves as the presumed impetus for vandalism, road rage, and nearly every unplanned instance of violent crime.

Burying one's grievances cannot eliminate them, and anger, the report says, "is more likely to have a negative effect on relationships than any other emotion." More than 20% of the survey's 2000 participants said that they had ended a friendship or romantic relationship because the other party did not know how to handle his or her anger. Such a condition can be just as pervasive as a quantifiable mental illness - in fact, rage and hopelessness, though they seem to be near-opposites, very often commingle in severe depression. And, like chronic depression and anxiety disorders, troublesome anger compromises one's physical and emotional well-being over time. Higher blood pressure and cholesterol readings, heart disease, greater susceptibility to infectious disease both major and minor, insomnia and its many offshoots: all side-effects of an uncontrolled anger problem.

Unfortunately, the most common treatment for anger management issues is that meted out by a court in the aftermath of unlawful behavior. While 85% of study participants believe that those affected should be encouraged to seek help, more than half wouldn't know where to direct them if they did. General practictioners and psychiatrists should be prepared to offer customized treatments to those whose problems are, for the most part, limited to an inability to contain their own unpleasantness. Many individuals obviously don't recognize the problem in themselves, and those who do may avoid seeking help due to personal shame. But people who suffer from anger management problems that don't amount to anxiety disorder diagnoses should not be discouraged from seeking treatment. While it may not be widely thought of as a mental illness, problematic anger can be effectively treated with many of the same methods applied to mood and anxiety disorders: personal or cognitive behavioral therapy sessions and, in extreme cases, medication.

The issue may be heightened by one's surroundings, but it is clearly part of the general human condition. This study was performed in the United Kingdom but could likely apply to nearly every society on Earth. The study's larger point is one worth restating: because it does not fit neatly into any diagnostic schema, problem anger often goes unrecognized, its effects attributed to personality defects or an insufficient capacity for self-control even though it is the very definition of a chronic condition. But this fury, constantly bubbling beneath the faces of millions, inevitably erupts into misplaced violence, be it of the verbal, emotional, physical, or self-inflicted variety. Letting victims know about available treatments is a key first step toward containing its influence.

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