Health: Control your anger - it's all the rage

Uptight and edgy? You're not alone - especially at Christmas. But help is at hand.
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NAOMI CAMPBELL has thrown one tantrum too many. Her millionaire Italian boyfriend, Flavio Briatore, 44, has told her to get help or risk losing him. Faced with this ultimatum, the 29-year-old supermodel allegedly booked into the prestigious Cottonwood clinic in Arizona, where she attended sessions in anger management.

Campbell is not alone in having a short fuse. We hear an increasing amount about rage of all kinds: road, air, supermarket - it seems that anger is a malaise of our times.

But it is also a very natural emotion, says Isabel Clarke, a clinical psychologist at the Royal Southants Hospital, Southampton. "It is there for our protection, to allow us to recognise when we are under threat and to give us the energy to do something about it," she explains. "It increases our heart rate and muscle tone, raises our adrenalin levels and shortens our breath. It prepares us to fight, in the same way that fear prepares us to take flight."

But it can also lead to serious health problems. "If anger is bottled up it can increase rates of depression," says Robert Russell, a personal development consultant at the Hale Clinic, London. "It also increases blood pressure and stress which can lead to heart attacks, cardio-vascular problems and strokes." Anger can also manifest itself in the form of eczema and asthma, and can cause stomach ulcers, gastritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and insomnia.

Fortunately it is not necessary to jet off to Arizona to treat anger. Various therapies are available in the UK. Isabel Clarke takes cognitive behaviour therapy sessions. "This is about reflecting on anger, and not acting it out," she explains. "We start by getting people to control their bodily reaction to anger, and to think of anger in a different way. By choosing how they think about it, they change how they feel about anger."

Robert Russell practises neuro linguistic programming (NLP). "This is based on modelling behaviour and people. The patient thinks about his emotional, visual and physical responses to anger. He then imagines himself coping with the situation. Gradually the anger disintegrates," he says.

Mr Russell also advocates eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. "This is based on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when we dream. Dreaming is the brain's way of diffusing situations and we can use it to help control anger." The patient thinks of a situation that makes him angry, and then rapidly moves his eyes in a specific pattern. "We do this for about 15 seconds and the patient begins to access solutions as they would in their dreams," he says.

One patient helped by Mr Russell was a 23-year-old man from Lincolnshire. "He was a manager at a large factory in the area. He came to me in a state of general anger. He was agitated and suffering from insomnia. He told me little things bothered him; that he finds fault in everyone and everything. He lost his temper easily." Mr Russell began by introducing the patient to a relaxation tape with positive suggestions about calmness. "I taught him to use a trigger method. Every time he listened to the tape, he had to put his thumb and forefinger together. This created a link between his calmness and the gesture. If he ever felt anger, he could use the gesture to suppress it, and bring back the feeling of calmness."

Over the next two sessions, Mr Russell discovered that the patient had fallen out with his parents about 18 months previously. "His parents didn't like his girlfriend. This coincided with the start of his anger and insomnia."

By the fourth session, the patient had cleared the air with his parents. "The parents admitted to over-reacting to the patient's girlfriend," says Mr Russell. "In this way he was able to forgive them."

For information on anger management contact the Hale Clinic, London on 0171-631 0156

Stay Cool for Yule

1 Limit the amount you drink and stick to it. Think about the number of units of alcohol you would like to drink and halve it.

2 Notice when you get twitchy, when the muscle in your neck goes stiff. Use it as a sign to give yourself some space. Take the dog for a walk, go to the shop, anything to get away.

3 Try not to concentrate on the things that wind you up about a person or situation. Think about the benefits of seeing Aunt Agatha - you have the rest of the year to think about why you can't stand her.

4 Think through the social situations that you will face, and the people that you are going to be with, and develop coping strategies to calm you down.

5 Get into the Christmas spirit and be on your best behaviour.