Sunday, November 13, 2005

Fearfully Angry

Anger May Be Healthier Than Fear:
A small study has found that those who responded to stressful situations with angry facial expressions were less likely to suffer stress-related ill effects such as high blood pressure and high stress hormone secretion, compared to people who responded to stress with fearful expressions.

"Anger can sometimes be adaptive. We're showing for the first time that when you are in a situation that is maddening and in which anger or indignation are justifiable responses, anger is not bad for you," study lead author Jennifer Lerner, associate professor of psychology and decision science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said in a prepared statement.
This study was done with methodology that protected the intention of the examiners. Participants were told they were examining an unrelated issue while exposing participants to various stimuli that were designed to create feelings of stress.

It should also be stressed (pun intended), this study focused on the emotion of the participants, not the behavior. Feelings of anger and appropriate behavioral expression is a very good thing. Feelings of anger and inappropriate behavior is a problem. Unfortunately, the two are quite often confused, particularly when we teach children about anger. For example, adults will sometimes make a statement about inappropriate anger/behavior such as "Billie, it's not nice to be so angry at Johnny". In fact what should be said is, "Billie, everyone gets angry at times, but it's not right to hit Johnny over the head with a hammer".

As a side note. There was another very interesting study done some years ago, using a similar methodology to this one. Participants were given a bogus excuse for what the examiners did, which was to ask participants to to flex or relax certain facial muscles. What they were in fact doing was sculpting emotions on the study participants faces. The findings were that there was a direct correlation between the emotion sculpted, and what participants reported "feeling" in later questionaires. Put another way. How you act can and does determine how you feel.

This simple concept is the driving force behind what is called cognitive-behavioral therapy. I frequently used to tell clients to "act" the way they wanted, regardless of how they felt. Do it enough times, and the feelings become automatic and can begin to preclude the action.

So. Feel like shit? Put a smile on your face and you'll feel better!


At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was interesting - TY for the link. Okay, so looking angry can be the healthier choice. And, it occurs to me, we don't have to curse, yell, or throw things, which might conflict with a self-image of being cool and sophisticated, to let off healthy steam and register our objection to such things as incompetency or invasion of privacy (retail transactions, airport security), for example. Oh! I know! We can practice Condi's scowl, lol.


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