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Why Hiding Emotions Isn’t Healthy for Anger Management

Emotions are, by their very nature, meant to be brief, transient experiences. Typically, your anger management techniques can use the fact that they come and go throughout the day — moving you in various directions, as evidenced by changes in your behavior.

Anger, for example, triggers a fight-or-flight response that is prewired into your nervous system. Not acting on an emotion like anger is unnatural and, in some instances, can be unhealthy. Emotions reflect changes in physiology — elevations in blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, and muscle tension — that are usually harmless because they’re short lived (that is, if you express them).

Emotions that are not expressed remain trapped within your body, causing a sustained state of physiological tension — and that can be deadly.

No such thing as unexpressed anger

Suggesting that anger is either expressed or unexpressed is actually untrue. All anger is expressed — the question is how. You probably think that you’re expressing your anger when you do so in a way that other people can see, hear, or feel. Otherwise, you figure, you’re not expressing it. But the reality is that all anger is expressed — some of it in ways that aren’t observable right away.

For example, you may not look or sound angry, but your anger may be expressing itself in your cardiovascular system (through high blood pressure or migraine headaches), your gastrointestinal system (through irritable bowel syndrome [IBS] or a spastic colon), or your musculoskeletal system (through TMJ or tension headaches).

Or anger may express itself in negative attitudes — pessimism, cynicism, hopelessness, bitterness, and stubbornness — or some form of avoidance behavior (giving people the silent treatment), oppositional behavior (“I don’t think so!”), or passive-aggressive behavior (“I’m sorry — did you want something?”). Anger may also sour your mood and leave you feeling down or depressed. You suddenly lose the enthusiasm you had previously.

Why appropriate anger management can be good for your health

Being chronically — morning, noon, and night — dissatisfied can be dangerous to your health. Dr. Ernest Harburg and his colleagues at the University of Michigan did a study asking people how satisfied they were with their jobs. They specifically asked the people how satisfied they were:

  • That their job offered an opportunity to earn a higher salary

  • That they had an opportunity to work with people who were friendly and helpful

  • With their ability to acquire new skills in their line of work

  • With job security (were they not likely to get laid off or fired)

  • That they were allowed to do those things they were best at on their jobs

  • That they had an opportunity to get ahead at work (be promoted)

He also asked questions to determine whether they tended to habitually express or suppress their anger. Interestingly, what these data revealed was that those employees who were highly dissatisfied at work but who suppressed their anger had, by far, the highest blood-pressure levels on average — as compared to those who were highly satisfied with their work or dissatisfied workers who expressed their anger in some way.

And the increase in blood pressure resulting from this combination of chronic dissatisfaction and suppressed anger was enough to place them at risk for potentially lethal heart attacks and strokes.

The same, it turned out, was true when they asked similar questions to determine how satisfied these people were with their home/family situation. Again, those who were the most dissatisfied but least expressive about their anger had the highest blood pressure.

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