Anger is an issue we all wish we could learn to deal with — in ourselves and in others. The destructive reactions we come up with when in anger, we often come to regret later. We have to control our anger when it’s easy before it controls us.
Surprisingly, sometimes the realization that you did wrong in the heat of the moment, makes you go angry at yourself all over again. Think: That’s memory of anger making you angry.
Do You Punch A Bag To Control Anger?
Does venting off your anger douse your flame? Does blowing off your steam make you calmer? Does carrying out an aggressive action control your anger?
Did anyone ever suggest that you pedal the hell out of your exercise bike or box the stuffing out of a punching bag to get your anger under control?
It’s a popular belief that punching a bag or a wall or a pillow reduces your anger. But experts say that the popular media may have got it all wrong.
A 1999 study by Brad Bushman, Angela Stack, and Roy Baumeister found that people who followed the media circulated catharsis message that aggressive actions relax and reduce anger, and then hit the punching bag, were afterwards more aggressive.
And a 2002 study by the same anger researcher Brad Bushman found that when angry participants hit a punching bag while thinking about the person who had angered them, they got angrier.
Can You Row Away Your Angry Feelings?
The Study. A few months back, this year, 2016, Fabian Pels and Jens Kleinert of German Sport University, Cologne, gathered 33 men and 27 women from local universities who studied psychology or social science. Of these, 58 students played a sport with regularity, as jogging, basketball and gymnastics.
The psychologists said they were to take part in a study “to examine whether self-perception differs between physical activities primarily requiring fine motor skills and those primarily requiring endurance”. That’s expert-speak for “We want to find out how you guys see the difference between exercises that need fine skills and those that demand stamina.” But actually, it was an aggression study.
The Process. Half of the chosen sixty were to row on an ergometer — a rowing machine. The researchers divided them into three groups — the first to row it out on their own (individual), the second to perform it with others as team (cooperative), and the third to do it with others as contestants (competitive).
The other thirty had to do combat exercises. They also got clubbed into three groups. The individual combat exercisers punched a boxing bag. The competitive combat players got this instruction: Strike your opponent with a bataka bat (a padded foam bat), and your opponent could hit you back with theirs. In the cooperative combat condition, they had to hit a corded ball in such a way that the ball passed to the other person over a rail, and the other person would then pass the ball back.
Overall, there were six random groups and with six different activities to follow.
The Tests. Before the start of the study, each of the participants received a pencil-and-paper test to find out their aggression score. Then their ‘umpires’ asked them to carry out some table tennis tasks. While they were at it, the umpires gave them a load of negative and unfair criticism to increase their anger levels.
Afterwards, the researchers checked their anger levels in another pencil-and-paper test. Finally, they were asked to do the rowing or combat exercises. And, of course, they went through the test again.
But, wait, this wasn’t over. The whole cycle got repeated thrice. (Talk of psychological studies!)
The Result. The researchers at the beginning had assumed that their study will prove that feelings of anger reduced when the exercise had movements that are unlike aggressive motions, and that people working out together got less angry.
But they were wrong.
In the end, when the results came after analyzing all that data, it was a surprise. It was not that the persons who worked together as team became calmer. And it was not that the ones who played combat sports became angrier.
It was this: The individual rowers had reduced their anger the most.
Does The Best Fighter Ever Get Angry?
One thing was clear to the researchers — that rowing away on a machine on your own to bring your anger down wasn’t a strategy that was foolproof. It wasn’t the real find. Read on.
The researchers noticed that the combat groups could not be made as much angry by negative and harsh criticism as the rowing groups. Said in a simple way, the combat groups were more chilled out even after their umpires rubbed them the wrong way. Plus, these combat guys did not pick up more anger while doing their boxing or kickboxing rounds.
Remember the Lao Tzu quote: “The best fighter is never angry.”
All exercisers showed reduction of anger, which the researchers Pels and Kleinert thought was due to overall muscle relaxation. Even this wasn’t the real find of the study.
So, what was the surprise find?
It was this, as the researchers wrote, “Aggression reduction is less a matter of movement type or social constellation than a matter of need satisfaction and personal fulfillment. In other words, sport and exercise are able to reduce aggression, particularly in cases where participants experience movements or tasks as satisfying and enjoyable.”
In plain-speak, exercise can cut your anger down, but only if you find it enjoyable and pleasant.
An Anger Misquote. You may find it quite interesting to know that even though he is credited to have said it, Buddha never said this: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else — you are the one who gets burned.” It is a popular misquote.
Hunting for it, you find that Joan Borysenko in her 1987 book Minding the Body, Mending the Mind had written something similar that somehow got changed into that misquote. Borysenko had written: “The Buddha compared holding onto anger to grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You, of course, are the one who gets burned.”
Coming back, what Pels and Kleinert’s research indicates is that if you want to bring your anger down, engage yourself in an exercise that you enjoy doing.
That is the surprisingly easy way to control your anger.
Originally published on Happiness India Project, here.
Author Bio: Founder» Happiness India Project | Positive Psychology Writer | Happiness Science Speaker | Medical Doctor |