Apr 17, 2013

To vent or not to vent -- that is the question

Are angry feelings best released in an explosive outburst or quietly suppressed using grit-your-teeth tactics? The debate rages on, even within psychological circles, fueled in part of a controversial book, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, by social psychologist Carol Tavris, Ph.D.

Dr. Tavris challenges popular beliefs that suppressed anger is dangerous to health. Blowing your top can be far more damaging than keeping your cool, she says. For example, men who are at high risk from heart disease --the so-called Type A personalities -- usually overexpress their anger.

To support this theory, Dr. Tavris cites an enormous research project, the Western Collaborative Group Study, which followed 3,154 California men aged 39 to 59 for several years to gather information on heart attack-prone behavior.

"Two aspects of Type A, competitive drive and impatience, were associated with the eventual occurrence of heart disease," Dr. Tavris reports. "The men risking illness were also more likely than healthier men to direct their anger outward and to become angry more than once a week."

Another study, this one conducted at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, measured the effects of anger expression, suppression, and "cool reflection" on blood pressure. Results, again, pointed thumbs down on hot heads. According to Ernest Harburg, Ph.D., chief investigator, the men who kept their cool -- who acknowledged their anger but were not openly hostile, verbally or physically -- had lower blood pressure than men who either bottled up their anger or became openly hostile.

Dr. Harburg further described the "cool reflective" approach as one in which the provoker and the provoked calm down first, then discuss the conflict reasonably with their goal firmly set on resolution. In other words, if you can get at the problem, you can solve the conflict. (‘The Complete Guide to Your Emotions and Your Health’, by Emrika Padus and staff of Prevention magazine)