Open a newspaper, click on daytime TV or board a big city subway, and you'll see that there are plenty of angry people around. Fortunately, there's lots of advice about what to do about anger. But what's true and what's myth?
Years ago, New Yorker Wendy Galfund responded to a "20/20" posting seeking people with anger problems. We followed Galfund with our cameras and learned that life for her is a constant struggle against … life.
At the supermarket, Galfund was furious because she couldn't find her shopping list. Then the fruit wasn't good enough. Then, of course, the checkout lines were full. While everyone else just waited patiently, Galfund pestered the store to open more registers, unsuccessfully.
At the post office, facing another big line, Galfund again fought the system, but she failed there too. And crossing Big Apple streets, she shouted at cars who failed to give her the right of way.
Did she know that her shouting wasn't doing any good?
"I have to still tell somebody how I feel," she said, "even if I'm alone, and even if they can't hear me."
Like many people "20/20" talked to, Galfund believed that venting her anger was healthy, and that holding in anger can cause illnesses like ulcers, colitis, even cancer. And that's the first widespread myth about anger: "Venting your anger is healthy."
Mind-body researcher Dr. Redford Williams, in the department of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, said that venting your anger is, in fact, quite unhealthy. With his wife, Virginia, Williams has written two books on anger management: "Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health" and "In Control: No More Snapping at Your Family, Sulking at Work, Steaming in the Grocery Line, Seething in Meetings, Stuffing Your Frustration."
When you vent your anger, "your blood pressure's going up more, your adrenaline levels are going up more. You're nicking those arteries a little bit more," Williams said.
"When you are getting angry, things are happening inside your body that are taking hours, days, years off your life," he explained. "The research is unequivocal in this. It shows that people who get angry a lot, every day, are more likely to die by age 50."
But whom does that scary scenario affect more, men or women? Who's angrier? "20/20" asked some New Yorkers what they thought.
"Women are actually meaner and madder than men are!" one person observed. Another man acknowledged that his wife is far angrier than he is, and one woman admitted that women are "a little more sneaky about our anger." But the conventional wisdom still says that there's a gender gap when it comes to anger. What does Williams think about the second anger myth: "Men are angrier than women"?
"It's true," he said. "Men are angrier than women. Lots of research shows that when we do surveys measuring chronic anger, men score higher on those surveys. … But men and women deal with their anger differently."