Your Health Checkup: Managing Your Anger

It seems that we are filled with tension these days, our anger near a boiling point. Dr. Zipes offers some suggestion for how to lower the temperature.

Couple making up after an argument

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“Your Health Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive. 

Order Dr. Zipes’ books, Bear’s Promise and Damn the Naysayers, A Doctor’s Memoir, and check out his website

My wife and I just had an argument over a trivial issue: how to return an ill-fitting pair of ladies’ slippers, which I ordered from Amazon at her request. Since I ordered them, she assumed I would take care of the return. I assumed — since they were her slippers ordered at her request — she would. Stalemate and squabble over a ridiculous issue!

It seems that we — and others — are filled with tension these days, at the boiling point, anger ready to bubble over when triggered by minor issues. A daily reading of airline headlines underscores the strain placed on flight attendants dealing with unruly passengers on almost every flight.

Many of us seem to have a low tolerance for frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance, and can’t take things in stride. I think the daily turmoil under which we live today has changed our tolerance level.

It’s not just individual relationships that appear under siege; it’s throughout our own country and across the globe. Politics, pandemics, race relations and anti-Semitism, climate change, abortion, voting laws, gun control, socioeconomic stresses, election fraud, and terrorist and nuclear threats are only some of the divisive elements that exist in our own country. And there’s plenty of trouble all around the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

We are a nation of laws that govern behavior and impact individual freedoms for the good of each other and society. The law compels us to do certain things: stop at a red light; obtain a license to drive a car, shoot a gun, or fly a plane. And prevents us from doing other things: stealing, killing. The arguments over whether to wear masks or get vaccinated strike me as part of behavior we do to benefit ourselves and society. They are the right things to do.

Obviously, if I can’t resolve my own domestic difficulties, I’m in no position to offer suggestions for resolution of wider challenges. However, all issues — no matter how large and consuming — ultimately come down to person-to-person negotiations and solutions. Rather than focusing on resentments, grudges, and other negative feelings that often color interpersonal outcomes, emphasizing the positive, i.e., things to be grateful for, might sway decisions toward happier endings.

For example, expressing gratitude with a simple “thank you” for something another person has done goes a long way to mend relationships. It actually can trigger the release of brain neurotransmitters that produce feelings of pleasure. I find myself tipping larger amounts at restaurants and for other services than I have done in the past as a way of showing gratitude, even more meaningful to underpaid workers. Similarly, saying “sorry” for committing a wrong helps both the giver and receiver. The reverse — harboring anger and anxiety — negatively impact heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Relaxation techniques can be helpful, such as yoga, deep breathing, imagining pleasant scenes, and reminding oneself about what’s really important. A technique I try to use — often too late! — is logically considering whether this disagreement/argument/squabble will be important and remembered a year from now. If the answer is no, then let it go.

I apologized to my wife, and went online and registered a return for her slippers. If only the other issues could be resolved so easily!

Featured image: Shutterstock

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