Rage, it seems, is all the rage. Hollywood’s perpetual bad boy Charlie Sheen is angling to cash in on the full-scale hissy fit he threw last year after being fired from his sitcom Two and a Half Men.
As of this month, he’ll be starring in a new TV comedy called Anger Management, playing a therapist with serious issues of his own.
Meanwhile, the gaming app Angry Birds, a global hit that’s been downloaded 500 million times since launching in 2009, continues to convince people that hurling fowl at unsuspecting pigs is the best fun around. And that’s to say nothing of the myriad videos devoted to angry grandpas, angry babies and angry cats currently clogging up YouTube.
Entertainment value aside, there is an upside to rage. On an evolutionary level, a hot head can serve to protect us. In stressful situations where we feel threatened or wronged, our brains send out messages for more adrenalin, tighter muscles and a faster heartbeat. This fight-or-flight response could theoretically keep us alive.
But according to the U.S. health department’s anger-management guide, rage becomes a problem when it’s “felt too intensely or too frequently, or is expressed inappropriately”-think of the persistent knot in your stomach whenever you’re stuck in traffic, or the urge to needle your partner after she fails to do the dishes.
Studies show that over time, this hostility can wear away at the immune system, causing illness and a reduction in quality of life. “We have to learn to be civil and deal with our emotions in constructive ways,” says Lesli Musicar, a Toronto-based counsellor who specializes in treating anger.
“I think that goes for pretty much anybody, whether it’s Charlie Sheen or someone losing it behind the wheel.”