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Feeling angry at work or at home? Embracing it has benefits, research shows

There is an upside to feeling angry. According to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, anger is more helpful at motivating people to overcome obstacles and meet their goals than a neutral emotional state.

In a series of seven experiments, researchers recruited undergraduate students at Texas A&M University and, in some cases, elicited anger by showing the students images that insulted their school, like people in Aggie shirts wearing diapers and carrying baby bottles.

“It worked well,” said Heather C Lench, the lead author of the study and a professor in the psychological and brain sciences department at Texas A&M.

The researchers found that anger helped the students solve more puzzles. When they were asked to play a challenging computer game and it was rigged to be nearly impossible to win, this angered the students. But in those moments, they moved faster and their reaction time decreased. The other experiments also showed that anger could be beneficial.

“For a long time, there was this idea that being positive all the time was a life well lived, and that’s what we should strive for,” Dr Lench said. “But there’s more and more evidence that it’s actually a life that’s balanced by a mix of emotions that seems to be more satisfying and positive long-term.”


When anger surfaces, it is important to remember your overall goal. Otherwise, anger can quickly get out of control, producing an outsize response that is too intense for the circumstances or that lasts an inordinate amount of time.

Say you’re arguing with your spouse. Some studies have shown that expressing anger and having a confrontational discussion can improve the relationship, provided that your goal is to strengthen the relationship, express your needs or come to a compromise, Dr Lench said.

But if you mainly care about being right and winning the argument, then that could “lead you to be aggressive with them in a way that is harmful,” she added.

To argue with someone constructively, Dr Shapiro said, imagine what the other person is feeling and look at the problem through their eyes; you will be more likely to influence them.

If your anger is all-consuming, first try stepping away to cool down.


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In the workplace, you can channel angry energy to achieve performance-related goals.

For example, someone who didn’t receive the annual review or promotion they wanted could use that anger to plan out steps to do better next year, said David Lebel, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business.

And if you bring up a problem with your co-workers or your manager, try to couple it with a suggestion that would help solve the problem, he added, or ask for help in finding a solution.

At times, someone’s gender, race or position in the organisation can make it feel more difficult to have these conversations in the workplace.

Simone Stolzoff, a workplace expert and the author of The Good Enough Job, suggested finding support both outside of work and within.

“Find solidarity among other colleagues, especially ones at your level,” he said. Together, you can express demands or talk about what needs to be changed “in a thoughtful, considered way.”

Finally, be wary of venting.

Venting can feel good, but it doesn’t generally produce solutions, Dr Kross said. Try to get social support from people who are objective and can help reframe your circumstances.

By Christina Caron © The New York Times Company

The article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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