I have mixed feelings about the popular movie Anger Management (2003) and its current TV spinoff. I do think humor is an effective anecdote to toxic anger (more on that below), but I take issue with the idea that we have to negotiate with anger through efforts to "manage" it. Why not just banish it?
Anger has no place in a healthy lifestyle. None. Even annoyance, or "anger lite," can and should be eliminated.
Studies show that somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians result from stress-related disorders. So each well-aimed, well-timed effort to eliminate anger from our thought and experience creates a healthier, more stress-free environment for everybody.
We can defeat anger; we don't have to just manage it. And it may be more important to all of us than some of us think. Health care is everybody's business, and preventive health care is proving to be the least expensive and most effective kind of health care reform.
Here are some ways to help banish anger:
1. Anticipate. Athletes know how this works. Where will your opponent hit/pass/throw the ball? Anger is your opponent. Where will it show up? Often on the road. We can move beyond disturbing anecdotes about road rage and learn to think of the road as our community, and driving as a social activity. I've learned that to be a really safe driver and avoid annoying — and being annoyed by — other drivers, I have to spend a few moments preparing mentally before I leave the driveway. Then I can practice "mindful driving." For me this means acknowledging a higher power, which guides, guards and governs me and everyone else on the road. Sometimes I focus on a Bible verse, like this one from Proverbs: "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." Or a thought like this from New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber: "Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness." That helps. I'm ready. Off I go.
2. Love wins. When anger goes deep and seems to be the result of abuse or long-standing animosity, love is the antidote. If you can accept the premise that love is more than a human quality and actually has a divine source, then you can tap that source anytime and anywhere, for any reason. Love is infinite and infinitely more powerful than anger. Searching for and finding the grace to practice empathy instead of indulging anger makes it easier to obey the universal law of kindness, which many of us know as the Golden Rule. This advice from Christian author Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures has been helpful for me in that effort: "What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds."
3. Humor. Henry Ward Beecher wrote, "A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road." Humor has always been an effective antidote for anger. When I was little and would get angry, my mom, always able to see the inner smile through the frown, would say, "I see a smile." Trying not to smile always broke the mesmerism of anger. Most of us know people who can make us laugh even when we'd rather rant. Try being that person. Try to see some humor in the everyday situations that create frustration and anger.
4. Forgiveness. The proven health benefits of converting anger and resentment into compassion and forgiveness should persuade us all to drop grudges and practice finding the good in others, especially when it seems glaringly absent. The dangers of cherishing resentment and anger are well illustrated by this adage, "Resentment is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die." Current clinical research bears this out, showing a connection between toxic anger indulged instead of purged and its effect on the cardiovascular system.
5. Mindfulness. Mindfulness has its roots in ancient spiritual practices. And it has rapidly growing modern applications in PTSD treatment, stress-reduction therapy, chronic pain reduction and the treatment of insomnia, to name just a few. Its practice varies greatly. For me mindfulness means consciously connecting with divine mind and divine love. I see these terms as synonymous with God, and helpful for anyone in thinking about the nature of God and accessing divine power. Prayer helps me connect with and access this power, which in turn allows me to recognize anger and resentment as unnatural elements of my thought. I can then consciously remove them and replace them with love and forgiveness. This is how I banish anger. It's a healthy exercise, and it works.
Managing anger is most certainly healthier than condoning or cultivating it. But banishing anger in all its forms from our thought and experience may be one of the most effective ways to take an active individual role in health care reform.
Bob Clark is a Christian Science practitioner from Belleair. Read his blog at simplyhealthyflorida.com.