Have you ever considered how communication affects your health? Think about how many conversations you have every day— from one-word exchanges to hour-long talks. When communication breaks down— even if it’s momentary— your heart rate speeds up. Next, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels rise. And research shows that stress causes or exacerbates more than 90 percent of all illness. Under prolonged stress, people become susceptible to ailments such as headaches, digestive issues, diabetes, and heart disease.
A clear example of how communication is linked to your health is through your emotions. Let’s talk about anger. There’s a variety of ways you might express anger. It may reveal itself through a change in tone, quickening pace of speech or an increase in volume. You may begin stomping your feet, pounding your fists or slamming doors. You may even revert to swearing or using formal names, such as “Edward William Haskel, get down here this minute!”
On the other hand, your anger may show up more subtly. Instead of participating in dinner conversation, you may take an undeclared oath of silence and not say a word all the way through the meal. Other approaches to suppressing the rumblings of anger are to retaliate with sarcasm or choose the passive-aggressive route, making life more difficult for the person or people who upset you.
As a physician, almost daily I witness the physical effects of poorly managed anger: trouble sleeping, high blood pressure and strokes, to name a few. And more alarming, research has shown that chronic anger is directly linked to an increased risk of heart disease and early death.
So which response to anger is healthier?
Be careful! For those of you thinking that people who yell and scream in anger need to get a grip, the approach of stuffing those feelings also has negative effects on your health.
Here’s the deal: anger is not the primary emotion. Anger is often masking hurt or fear. It’s important to get to the root of what’s driving your anger in order to resolve it and allow it to guide you. In general, emotions, themselves, are neither good nor bad. Instead, emotions are a powerful indicator of how you are connecting to the experience of your life in a particular moment.
It’s when you ignore anger or overuse it and make it a strategy that it causes problems and adversely impacts your health. What’s most important is how often and to what intensity you get angry— and especially what you do with your anger once it surfaces. Here are a few ways you can respond, rather than react to or suppress anger, both in yourself or in the presence of someone else’s anger.
Expressing your anger in a healthy way:
- State what’s happening.
- Then ask for what you need.
- “I feel myself reacting. Can we talk about what you just said?”
- “I’m shutting down. I need to go for a run and then we can talk about it again after dinner.”
- “This is new information. I need the weekend to think through what I want to do next.”
Responding to someone else’s anger in a healthy way:
- State what you observe (what has physically changed).
- Name the underlying emotion.
- Get curious.
- “When Joe walked in, you got up and left. You seemed frustrated. What happened?”
- “Your tone changed. You sound upset. Is something wrong?”
- “You’re giving one-word answers and looking down instead of at me. You seem angry. What’s going on?”
To cooling the flames,