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There’s a small class of chronically peeved people: 4 per cent are angry most of the time. As a rough point of comparison, in a study of American workers, I found that 8 per cent are angry most of the time.

Have you been following the "nut rage" saga?

It involves a 40-year-old Korean Air executive's outrage over the way she was served nuts while seated in first class: in a bag instead of on a plate! As media have reported, Heather Cho – the daughter of the company's chairman – angrily demanded to have the head steward removed from the plane, but not before he was made to kneel down in front of her. (She's now a former Korean Air executive.)

Then there's this Washington Post headline: "After 'nut rage,' Chinese tourists face punishment for 'noodle rage.'" Several friends were denied their request to sit together on a Thai AirAsia flight. It didn't end well. A flight attendant was scalded with hot noodles.

Earlier this year, several flights in the United States were diverted because of "recline rage." Passengers got incensed when reclined seats cramped their space. Note to self: Never fall asleep with your head on the tray table.

With all these subcategories of air rage, it seems reasonable to ask: What is it about us humans and airplane cabins? But then, we also have road rage, parking-lot rage, sidewalk rage and desk rage (those times when you feel like smashing the jammed printer into the frozen computer and throwing your constantly ringing phone at your jabbering colleagues). And, my favourite, wrap rage. Why on earth do I need an ice pick to open this plastic light-bulb package?

So do we have an anger problem?

My 2011 survey of Canadian workers confirms that anger is a popular emotion. About six in 10 felt annoyed, four in 10 felt angry, and three in 10 yelled at others at least some of the time during the past month. Guess how many told us that they never get annoyed, angry or yell at others? Five per cent. (They must never drive in Toronto.)

And, there's a small class of chronically peeved people: 4 per cent are angry most of the time. As a rough point of comparison, in a study of American workers, I found that 8 per cent are angry most of the time.

Good anger, bad anger

Most of us have played the part of the angry actor – or been the recipient of somebody else's wrath. Anger provides drama; rage enlarges it. Anger can sharpen a critical perspective and inspire a creative edge. The right expression of anger can engage the detached.

What's the difference between good anger and bad anger? Aristotle had some insights: "Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way, that is not within everyone's power and that is not easy." When anger is too intense, lasts too long or is misdirected, it can be damaging.

During my 20s, while working for a health organization, I had a memorable encounter with failed anger control. I lost my cool in a meeting with important clients. After the meeting, my supervisor called me to her office and told me: "Next time you feel that way: poker face," her hand moving across an expressionless face. In other words, feel it but don't display it. Easier said than done.

Fuel for action

If there is a theme for 2014, it is that we are living in a world that has far-from-perfect justice. And the social landscape of oppression reveals that injustice is not randomly distributed in society.

Injustice is a classic trigger of anger. In such instances, not only is anger appropriate – it is necessary. Moral outrage can mobilize countermeasures. This is an important social utility of anger.

Anger charges metabolic fuel for action. A study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity reveals anger's mobilizing potential and distinguishes it from fear. When researchers presented participants with a "challenging stress task," those who responded with anger experienced elevated cortisol levels – a steroid hormone that expands the availability of the metabolic fuel needed for energy-loaded actions. This suggests a biological link between anger and the kind of mobilized energy to correct an injustice or get a complacent other to act. By contrast, people who responded with fear had lowered cortisol – an element of biological processes that promote withdrawal behaviour.

But we need to be careful about the charging intensity of anger. When anger moves into temper-tantrum territory, most people feel embarrassed once they've cooled off. While it is human to experience bad anger, it is also human to feel remorse. The famous line in my favourite childhood TV show, The Incredible Hulk, spoken by the pre-Hulk David Banner, captured the narrative: "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." There are important health reasons to avoid Hulk-like anger. A recent study in the American Journal of Cardiology suggests it is linked to heart-related problems like acute myocardial infarction, arrhythmia, and ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke.

Managing your anger

So, what can you do with your anger? Identify the trigger points and avoid them. If that isn't possible, change their meaning. Follow the advice of Richard Carlson in Don't Sweat the Small Stuff: Don't get angry over things that don't really matter. Keep perspective. Recognize that most of the things that get us angry aren't actually that important. But, if societal injustices have you outraged, use that energy for change.

For the past few days, I've been struggling with a small problem. The café where I was working got too noisy, so I decided to head to the public library in search of more concentrated focus. I found an area demarcated with large "QUIET ZONE" signs. Perfect.

Then, just as my ideas start to flow, a guy seated in a nearby cubicle starts chatting loudly on his cellphone – underneath more signs with the "no cellphone" symbol.

I'm trying not to add "library rage" to the list, so here's what I do: Take a deep breath. Channel Aristotle and repeat, "It's all small stuff." Pop in my ear buds … and put on Poker Face.

Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging. Dr. Scott Schieman is a Canada Research Chair (Social Contexts of Health) and professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on the causes and health consequences of social stress. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottSchiemanUT