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The Best Ways to Manage Anger

Research finds anger management is about lowering arousal.

Key points

  • Anger is considered a negative emotion associated with high arousal.
  • A new meta-analysis found reducing arousal is the best way to manage anger.
  • Other activities that increase arousal, such as jogging, were ineffective at reducing anger levels.
Source: Tuzemka/Shutterstock

According to a worldwide Gallup poll of more than 147,000 people living in 142 countries, nearly one-quarter of people feel angry on a regular basis, and that number has remained flat for the past three years.

Anger is one of the basic human emotions. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes in the body including increased heart rate and blood pressure, and higher levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Anger can be a good thing when it motivates people to work toward a positive outcome or encourages them to express negative feelings. But too much anger can damage physical health.

Psychologists characterize emotions in two ways: whether they are positive or negative and related to high or low arousal. Anger is considered a negative emotion that leads to high arousal. It typically makes people feel prepared to attack or fight the cause of the anger.

ARAMYAN/Adobe Stock
Source: ARAMYAN/Adobe Stock

Because anger can have negative consequences and is widely considered an unpleasant emotion, most people want to find ways to reduce angry feelings. A new meta-analysis combined data from 154 studies, totaling more than 10,000 participants, to determine the best techniques and activities for decreasing anger. The study was published last month in the journal Clinical Psychology Review.

The researchers found activities that decrease arousal, such as yoga and relaxation techniques, were very effective at reducing levels of anger and aggression in participants of all genders, races, ages, and cultures. They worked equally well with students, criminal offenders, and people with intellectual disabilities.

Additionally, these techniques were effective regardless of how they were implemented, including via digital media, in group and individual sessions, and in the field or laboratory. Interventions were even more effective when they included both cognitive and arousal-decreasing activities, such as meditation.

On the other hand, activities that increased arousal were ineffective or inconsistent at reducing levels of anger and aggression. Specifically, jogging was found to elevate levels of anger. For some people, playing ball sports or taking a physical education course decreased anger levels, but those results were inconsistent.

“These findings do not support the idea that venting anger or going for a run are effective anger management activities,” the authors wrote. “A more effective approach for managing anger is ‘turning down the heat’ or calming down by engaging in activities that decrease arousal. Going for a run might be good for your heart, but it is not good for managing anger.”

The take-home message: The body of evidence on anger management interventions suggests that calming activities are helpful in reducing levels of anger and aggression, whereas arousing activities are more likely to stimulate more aggression.

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