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Why Are We All So Angry These Days?

Posted: 24/01/2013 23:00

Road rage, car rage, plane rage... there seems to be a rage for everything these days! Rarely a week goes by without some report in the media about someone who has 'lost it' as the red mist descended. There are angry people in supermarkets (trolley rage), on buses, in cinemas, at restaurants... Is nowhere safe anymore from our anger? How and why did we become such an Angry Nation?

I have studied anger for many years and penned two books on the topic; the latest, Managing Anger (Hodder and Stoughton) out this month. I believe that we are getting angrier as a nation - that we are more likely than ever before to both feel angry and to express our anger. This is despite the increasing 'zero tolerance' exhibited in many workplaces and organisations that remind us that 'abuse towards staff will not be tolerated.' So, what's going on?

The reasons for our increasing rage are, in my view, twofold; on the one hand our expectations have risen steadily and on the other hand, so have our stress levels. Our raised expectations mean that we, as a society, have much higher expectations of our world; we believe we have the right to expect things to go well, indeed, to be perfect. Part of this raised expectation is fed by the 'customer charter' culture which has mushroomed over the past decade; this is a charter for our 'rights' and leads us to have high expectations that we receive superlative service in all aspects of our life. When, as is inevitable, reality falls short of these expectations, we feel that we have the right to get angry about it. Steak not cooked to perfection? Someone eating popcorn noisily in the cinema? We have the right to get annoyed and demand redress - immediately!

At the same time that we have become more demanding as a nation, we are also living a more frenetic and frantic pace of life, which means our stress levels are raised. This raised stress means that our tolerance for things going wrong is dramatically reduced. Things that go wrong often appear to conspire to stop us achieving some objective whether that be work or pleasure-based. The customer taking too long in front of us is stopping us do our shopping quickly, the staff member who won't give us a refund is stopping us getting access to the justice we think we deserve, and the colleague who is interrupting us with minor queries is stopping us get our work done. Because of our stress levels, our tolerance for such obstacles is low....and we get angry. This combination of raised expectations and stress levels gives rise to the 'angry personality'; and there seem to be more Mr and Ms Angrys about these days.

The things that make us angry tend to fall into a small range of categories; things that frustrate us and stop us reaching our goals, unmet expectations, perceived injustice or abuse. Our tolerance for all of these is likely to be low when are stress levels are high, and we feel entitled not only to feel angry, but to express that anger when we feel that these rights have been violated.

What, then, can we do to become calmer and to take life's frustrations more easily in our stride? Clearly, we need to lower our expectations and not only accept, but expect that not everything will go as it 'should'. This doesn't mean we have to put up with shoddy service, but that we can be able to deal more calmly with things when they go wrong. Lowering our general stress levels will also mean that we can tolerate everyday disappointments better and not fly off the handle at relatively minor frustrations.

So, don't get mad, get even (tempered)! Your health (and people around you) will thank you for it!

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  • Bring Your Dog To Work

    A recent study in the <em>International Journal of Workplace Health Management</em> showed that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/01/bringing-dog-to-work-stress_n_1391420.html" target="_hplink">bringing your dog to work</a> could help to lower office stress and boost employee satisfaction. "Pet presence may serve as a low-cost, wellness intervention readily available to many organizations and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support," study researcher Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D., a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a statement. "Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace." The study, which looked at the pet-friendly company Replacements, Ltd., showed that employees who brought their dogs in to work experienced <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/01/bringing-dog-to-work-stress_n_1391420.html" target="_hplink">decreases in stress</a> throughout the work day. Meanwhile, self-reported stress <em>increased</em> for people who didn't bring their dogs, and for those who don't have dogs.

  • Laugh It Up

    If you're feeling particularly stressed, perhaps it's time to take a quick YouTube break. A small 1989 study in the <em>American Journal of the Medical Sciences</em> showed that<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2556917" target="_hplink"> "mirthful laughter"</a> is linked with lower blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The Mayo Clinic reported that laughter also promotes <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00034" target="_hplink">endorphin release</a> in the brain and relaxes the muscles, which are all key for stress relief.

  • Grab A Shovel And Some Seeds

    Caregiving is extremely stressful, but a 2008 survey showed that gardening may help to reduce stress among caregivers. The survey, by BHG.com, showed that 60 percent of caregivers feel <a href="http://www.alz.org/national/documents/release_110308_garden.pdf" target="_hplink">relaxed when they garden</a>, the Alzheimer's Association reported. And, Health.com reported on a Netherlands study, suggesting that gardening can help to <a href="http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20507878_2,00.html" target="_hplink">lower cortisol levels</a> and boost mood among people who had just finished a stressful task. That's because doing something that requires "involuntary attention" -- like sitting back and enjoying nature -- helps to replenish ourselves, Health.com reported.

  • Crack Open A Book

    Just <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html" target="_hplink">six minutes of reading</a> is enough to help you de-stress, the <em>Telegraph</em> reported. The study, which was sponsored by Galaxy chocolate, suggested that <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html" target="_hplink">reading was linked with a slower heart rate</a> and muscle relaxation. Drinking tea or coffee, listening to music and taking a walk also seemed to help lower stress, according to the <em>Telegraph</em>.

  • Call Mom

    Even if she's not there in person, a call to mom can help lower stress. <em>Scientific American</em> reported on a study in the journal <em>Proceedings of the Royal Society B</em> showing that young girls who <a href="http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2010/05/11/a-phone-call-from-mom-reduces-stress-as-well-as-a-hug/" target="_hplink">talked to their mothers on the phone</a> after completing stressful tasks had decreased cortisol (the stress hormone) in their saliva, and increased oxytocin levels (the bonding hormone). The girls who talked to their mothers on the phone had <a href="http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2010/05/11/a-phone-call-from-mom-reduces-stress-as-well-as-a-hug/" target="_hplink">decreased cortisol</a> and increased oxytocin levels compared with young girls who weren't allowed to contact their mothers at all, <em>Scientific American</em> reported -- girls who hugged their moms in person had a similar reaction to the phone group.

  • Eat Some Chocolate

    Dark chocolate doesn't only have health benefits for the heart -- eating it can also help to <a href="http://www.livescience.com/7974-chocolate-reduces-stress-study-finds.html" target="_hplink">lower stress</a>. LiveScience reported on a study illustrating that eating 1.4 ounces of <a href="http://www.livescience.com/7974-chocolate-reduces-stress-study-finds.html" target="_hplink">dark chocolate</a> a day for a two-week period is linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. That study was published in 2009 in the journal <em>Proteome Research</em>. (But of course, chocolate still contains sugar and lots of calories, so make sure you're eating the chocolate in moderation!)

  • Gossip

    Gossip may not be viewed as socially "good," but it <em>might</em> have benefits in relieving stress. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/17/gossip-stress-exploitation-heart-rate_n_1211207.html" target="_hplink">gossiping can actually lower stress</a>, stop exploitation of others and police others' bad behavior. "Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/17/gossip-stress-exploitation-heart-rate_n_1211207.html" target="_hplink">make people feel better</a>, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip," study researcher Robb Willer, a social psychologist at UC Berkeley, said in a statement. Willer's research was published this year in the <em>Journal of Personality and Social Psychology</em>. So if something's bothering you, go ahead and gab -- but just make sure you move on so you don't dwell on the negative emotions!

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