What is Anger?
Anger is a basic human emotion that is experienced by all people, however, the degree to which, the triggers for it, and the reactions to it are varied throughout people. Generally, anger triggered by an emotional hurt, anger is usually experienced as an unpleasant feeling that occurs when we think we have been injured, mistreated, opposed in our long-held views, or when we are faced with problems that keep us from attaining our goals.
The experience of anger varies widely; how often anger occurs, how intensely it is felt, and how long it lasts are different for each person. People also vary in how easily they get angry (their anger threshold), as well as how comfortable they are with feeling angry. Some people are always getting angry while others seldom feel angry. Some people are very aware of their anger, while others fail to recognize anger when it occurs. Some experts suggest that the average adult gets angry about once a day and annoyed or peeved about three times a day. Other anger management experts suggest that getting angry fifteen times a day is more likely a realistic average. Regardless of how often we actually experience anger, it is a common and unavoidable emotion.
Anger can be constructive or destructive. When well managed, anger or annoyance has very few detrimental health or interpersonal consequences. At its roots, anger is a signal to you that something in your environment isn’t right. It captures your attention and motivates you to take action to correct that wrong thing. How you end up handling the anger signal has very important consequences for your overall health and welfare, however. When you express anger, your actions trigger others to become defensive and angry too. Blood pressure rises and stress hormones flow. Violence can ensue. You may develop a reputation as a dangerous ‘loose cannon’ whom no one wants to be around.
Out of control anger alienates friends, co-workers and family members. It also has a clear relationship with health problems and early mortality. Hostile, aggressive anger not only increases your risk for a premature death but also your risk for social isolation, which itself is a major risk factor for serious illness and death. These are but two of many reasons why learning to properly manage anger is a good idea.
While anger is a normal, usually healthy emotion everyone experiences from time to time, when anger becomes uncontrollable, it often causes problems at home and at work.
What Causes Anger?
Anger may happen instinctively in humans and other animals to protect territory, offspring and family members, secure mating privileges, prevent loss of possessions or food, and other perceived threats. Often anger is caused by “perceived loss of control over factors affecting important values.” The values may be related to pride, love, money, justice, and so on.
Factors that commonly make people angry are:
- Grief after a major loss (death of a loved one, loss of a job, homelessness)
- Feelings of sexual frustration
- Disappointment or failure
- Rudeness and injustice
- Use of or withdrawal from alcohol, drugs, medications, or other addictive substances
- Physical conditions, such as pre-menstrual syndrome
- Physical or mental illness
- Being teased, bullied, or humiliated
- Embarrassment and shame
- Stress, for example, over deadlines or financial problems
- Traffic jams
- Sloppy service
- Being told you have a serious illness.
What Are The Ways We React To Anger?
There are a multitude of reasons that we become angry, and these vary from person to person.
As anger is an adaptive response to threats that allows us to defend ourselves when we’re attacked, anger is necessary for survival, but we must place limits on how far we allow anger to take us.
1) Expressing anger in an assertive way by making your needs known and expressing how to get them met is the healthiest way of handling anger.
2) Suppressing anger happens when you hold the anger inside and focus on something else, converting your feelings into more productive behavior. Suppressing anger can be helpful, but if the anger remains unexpressed, it turns inward.
3) Unexpressed Anger can lead to a cynical disposition marked by passive-aggressive behavior. Those who criticize others or put them down haven’t learned how to properly express anger.
Signs You May Have Uncontrollable Anger:
- Are you angry a lot of the time?
- Are you angry without an identifiable cause?
- Has anyone ever said they are afraid of you?
- Have you found yourself in difficult situations (personally or professionally) because you acted in anger without considering the consequences of your words or actions?
- Do your spouse and/or friends avoid conflict with you?
- Has someone ever received a bruise as a result of your actions during an argument?
- Have you ever broken an object (glass, chair, vase, ashtray, etc.) during or right after an argument?
- Has a loved one ever accused you of being angry and you felt you had to prove him or her wrong?
- Have you ever surprised yourself by how angry you got and by what you did?
- Have you ever hurt yourself punching or kicking a wall?
- Have you ever been “blind” with rage, or could not remember what you did when angry?
What Are The Health Repercussions of Anger?
Anger takes a lot out of a person. When you’re angry, your body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. Slowly, your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and breathing rate increase.
Regular anger can eventually make people ill because recurrent, unmanaged anger can result in a constant flood of stress chemicals which is hard on your body and can lead to metabolic changes that eventually undermine your health.
The following physical health problems may occur:
- Hypertension, or high blood pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome, or other digestive disorders
- Skin disorders
- Heart attack
- Lower pain threshold
- Weakened immune system, resulting in more infections, colds, and influenza.
Emotional and mental consequences of frequent, uncontrolled anger include:
- Depression and moodiness
- Eating disorders
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Low self-esteem.
Ways To Keep Your Anger Managed:
Anger management involves skills of recognizing the signs of anger and taking action to deal with the situation in a positive way. It does not mean holding the anger in or avoiding angry feelings. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion when expressed appropriately.
Anger management teaches people how to recognize frustrations at an early stage, and to settle them in a way that allows the person to express their needs, while remaining calm and in control.
Coping with anger is an acquired skill.
Anger management helps a person to identify what triggers their emotions, and how to respond for a positive outcome.
A person whose anger is having negative consequences on a relationship, or is leading to violent or dangerous behavior may be advised to see a mental health counselor or to take an anger management class.
Some ways to manage your anger include:
Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation can help control anger.
Take a break. Sometimes, our environment may irritate us to the point of anger. Make sure you have some personal time scheduled each day.
Solve problems with a plan. Since not all anger is misplaced, sometimes anger is a natural response to a very difficult situation without a “right” answer. Rather than focus on the solution, figure out how to manage the problem by making – and sticking to – a plan. Give it your best, but don’t become angry at yourself if you can’t find an answer immediately.
Change the way you think:
- Use cold logic on yourself as logic is rational and anger is irrational.
- Avoid using “always” and “never” when talking to yourself or someone else.
- Remind yourself that anger makes you feel worse, not better.
- Replace inner negative thoughts with more positive ones.
Use humor to diffuse rage and provide a more balanced perspective. Imagine the asshole that cut you off on the highway is actually a giant asshole. This should take some of the edge off the anger.
Recording the feelings during an episode, and what happened before, during, and after may help a person to anticipate anger triggers, and to cope when episodes occur.
Understanding what happened, what worked and what did not work can help to achieve a more effective anger management plan.
Don’t Repress: It is important not to repress the anger, but to express it when the person has calmed down, in an assertive, non-aggressive way.
Regular exercise can regulate levels of adrenaline and cortisol levels, as well as increasing levels of endorphins, the natural feel-good hormones. You will also sleep better; a crucial factor for good mental health.
Plan Ahead: If you’re is bothered by something, planning what to say beforehand can help prevent the conversation from getting sidetracked.
Focusing on the solution, not just the problem is more likely to resolve the issue.
Letting go of resentment helps, because bearing grudges fuels the anger and makes it harder to control. Other people are the way they are, and accepting this can help.
Timing is important. If evening discussions tend to turn into rows, possibly due to tiredness, change the times when you talk about important matters.
Anger can increase breathing and heart rates and tense up the muscles, but this can be reversed by deliberately slowing the breathing and systematically relaxing and loosening the muscles.
Getting at least 7 hours of good quality sleep every night contributes to good mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of health problems, including anger.
Use better communication by slowing down and thinking through your responses before spurting them out. Being defensive when criticized is normal, but listen to what the other person is saying before jumping to conclusions and acting out in anger.
Therapeutic counseling and classes are often recommended for people whose anger causes them to do things they regret, cause harm to the people around them, or whose behaviors are taking a toll on their personal and professional lives.
Know when to walk away: If you are confronted by a person who is irrationally angry, the best course of action is to walk away. It’s important to take reasonable precautions to protect yourself if leaving is difficult or impossible.
Therapy For Anger:
Anger management therapy may be in group sessions, or one-on-one with a counselor or psychotherapist.
If the person is diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as depression, anger management should take this into account.
In anger management training, a person learns to:
- Identify what makes them angry
- Respond in a non-aggressive way to anger triggers, before getting angry
- Handle the triggers
- Identify moments when thought processes are not leading to logical and rational conclusions, and to correct their thinking
- Return to a state of calm and peace when anger surges
- Express feelings and needs assertively in situations that normally lead to anger and frustration, without becoming aggressive
- Redirect energy and resources into problem-solving rather than anger.
First, the person needs to learn to fully recognize their anger. The following questions may help:
- How do I know when I am angry?
- What type of people, situations, events, places, triggers make me angry?
- How do I respond when I am angry? What do I do?
- What impact does my angry reaction have on other people?
It can help to understand that anger and calmness are not clear-cut emotions. Anger can range from mild irritation to full rage. Knowing this can help people to understand when they are really angry and when they are just irritated.
Emotional symptoms that may develop as a person moves from irritation to rage include:
- A desire to escape from the situation
- Sadness or depression
- Desire to lash out verbally
- Desire to lash out physically.
The following signs may also occur:
- Rubbing the face with the hand
- Fidgeting, or clasping one hand with the other
- Pacing around
- Becoming cynical or sarcastic
- Losing the sense of humor
- Becoming rude and abusive
- Crave substances that the person thinks will relax them, such as alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
- Speaking louder
- Screaming or crying.
Physical symptoms that can occur include:
If not treated, anger problems can lead to further psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
- Grinding teeth
- Clenching the jaw
- Upset stomach
- Elevated heart rate
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Hot flashes in the face or neck
- Trembling hands, lips or jaw
- Tingling at the back of the neck.
If a person can recognize whether they are irritated, angry or furious, they can use anger management techniques to control the situation.
Additional Anger Resources:
If anger has caused a person to become violent or someone you know is in physical danger, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) 1.800.787.3224 (TTY)
Evolution of Self: What Your Anger May Be Hiding. An article from Psychology Today written by a psychologist
Taking Charge of Anger: website explaining anger to children.
Post last audited 7/2019