When Does a Healthy Dose of Anger Become an Overdose?

By Chuck Norris

I was recently reminded of a posting some months ago by Dustin Grove, an award-winning anchor/reporter for WTHR-TV in Indianapolis on the station’s social media platform. “Why are we so angry?” the headline asks. “From in-flight fights to road-rage shootings and clashes in stands at high school athletic events, it’s not all that difficult lately to find examples of anger that has gotten out of control,” he reports.

It’s hard to read this without a nod of the head. We have all seen examples of this kind of bad behavior played out on various media reports as well as before our eyes. Grove then points to a 2019 NPR-IBM Watson Health poll saying that 84% of Americans surveyed are angrier than a generation ago. “Then came COVID-19,” the reporter adds.

Anger is a response, Vanessa Enos, a licensed mental health counselor with Community Health Network, explains. It is often the result of something else going inside of us that’s much deeper. In many cases, it’s worse when our basic life needs aren’t being met, like safety and security, she notes.

For years, Gallup has been putting out an annual Global Emotions Report, a trusted source of comparative emotional data from more than 100 countries gaging how people are feeling. As reported by CNN, according to Julie Ray, managing editor for world news at Gallup, positive experiences have remained relatively stable in years past — except for 2021, when they dropped. In 2021, the world saw an increase in negative experiences reach the “highest rate researchers had measured in the 17 years they had been conducting the research.”

“The good news is that the rate of negative experiences didn’t go up in 2022,” CNN reporter Madeline Holcombe says. The bad news is they “also stayed at the highest level that we’ve ever measured,” Ray admits.

Charles Figley, head of the Tulane University Traumatology Institute, knows a great deal about anger and negative emotions. He joined the Marine Corps out of high school, and after serving in Vietnam during the war and surviving, he became a volunteer and a scholar helping war veterans cope with their mental health. He “became interested in the concept of trauma,” writes Time magazine’s Jamie Ducharme in a recent profile. “Not only the lasting psychological wounds that people experienced after living through traumatic events themselves, but also how their loved ones often came to share those burdens.” These trickle-down secondary traumatic stress reactions are now commonly referred to as “compassion fatigue,” the “emotional and physical exhaustion that sometimes afflicts people who are exposed to others’ trauma,” reports Ducharme.

After nearly 50 years researching these concepts on how ordinary people can be affected by the trauma of others, Figley is seeing a time “when just about everyone is near-constantly exposed to content about war, violence, death, and injustice on the news, internet, and social media,” reports Ducharme.

Figley’s research suggests “people who develop compassion fatigue may experience symptoms similar to those of PTSD, including trouble sleeping; becoming triggered by difficult emotions or memories; and changes in personality, mood, or affect. It can also manifest as emotional numbness, with the sufferer becoming desensitized to the experiences of others. … Regular people may, similarly, be more likely to experience compassion fatigue if they personally identify with an issue in the news or that a loved one is experiencing,” says the Time report.

Michelle Trent is executive director of The Compass Center, a nonprofit counseling center in South Dakota focused on trauma healing and prevention. She tells Ducharme that she first started seeing these symptoms firsthand in 2020. “Our clients were coming in just saying, ‘We can’t watch the news anymore.”

Triggers vary, says Trent, and there is no way to know precisely what will cause compassion fatigue. “It’s important to monitor how you’re feeling during stressful or emotionally taxing times. If you don’t feel like yourself or are reacting more strongly than usual to difficult situations — perhaps by snapping at others or growing angry when you’re usually level-headed — you may be experiencing compassion fatigue,” reports Ducharme.

It is not unlike a tank of gas, Trent adds. “At some point, if you don’t replenish it, then you’re on empty.”

Which leads us back to anger as a response to the craziness around us. Can what we view as a negative emotion be channeled toward a positive purpose? I say this because a widely publicized new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that a healthy dose of anger can be motivating, that there is an upside to feeling angry.

“Anger is more helpful at motivating people to overcome obstacles and meet their goals than a neutral emotional state,” says Heather C. Lench, lead author of the study and a professor in the psychological and brain sciences department at Texas A&M University, in an interview with The New York Times. I would also add, as a martial artist with a lifetime of experience practicing emotional control, that high among the required skill sets is the ability to control anger.

So, should we embrace our anger? Before we get too carried away with this concept, it is important to acknowledge that not all forms of anger are useful for achieving goals. “Venting can feel good, but it doesn’t generally produce solutions,” writes Times reporter Christina Caron.

It may also be harmful to your health. According to a recent NBC News report, a 2022 study from the European Heart Journal found that anger “may contribute to the development of certain cardiovascular diseases, particularly heart failure in men and in people with diabetes.” In addition, a 2021 study from the same journal found acute anger to be associated with the onset of strokes. “Anger can be motivating. But that doesn’t mean that we turn thinking off,” Lench importantly reminds us.

So, we should not be celebrating anger unless the necessary work has been done to control it. Because what we all see far too often when (for instance) a driver cuts someone off as they snarl and give them “the finger,” is an individual not at all interested in controlling their anger, but rather just running with it.

Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at


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