Managing Anger

Managing Anger


What is anger?


Anger is a very powerful emotion that can stem from feelings including frustration, hurt, annoyance, and disappointment. Anger is a normal human emotion that can range from slight irritation to strong rage.

Anger can be harmful or helpful, depending upon how it is expressed. Knowing how to recognize and express anger in appropriate ways can help people to reach goals, handle emergencies, and solve problems. However, problems can occur if people fail to recognize and understand their anger.

What are the dangers of suppressed anger?


Suppressed anger can be an underlying cause of anxiety and depression. Anger that is not appropriately expressed can disrupt relationships, affect thinking and behavior patterns, and create a variety of physical problems. Chronic anger has been linked to health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, headaches, skin disorders, and digestive problems. In addition, anger can be linked to problems such as crime, emotional and physical abuse, and other violent behavior.

The Nature of Anger


Anger is "an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage," according to Charles Spielberger, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person (Such as a coworker or supervisor) or event (a traffic jam, a canceled flight), or your anger could be caused by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.

Expressing Anger


The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.

On the other hand, we can't physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us.

People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn't mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.

Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn't allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward—on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.

Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven't learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren't likely to have many successful relationships.
Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside.

What steps can I take to help manage my anger?


Try to interrupt the anger cycle with tactics such as deep breathing, positive self-talk, or stopping your angry thoughts. Breathe deeply from your diaphragm. Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as "relax" or "take it easy." Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.

Although expressing anger is better than keeping it in, anger should be expressed in an appropriate way. Frequent outbursts of anger are often counter-productive and cause problems in relationships with others. Anger outbursts are also stressful to your nervous and cardiovascular systems, and can make health problems worse. Learning how to use assertiveness is the healthy way to express your feelings, needs, and preferences. Being assertive can be used in place of using anger in these situations.

Seek out the support of others. Talk through your feelings and try to work on changing your behaviors.
If you have trouble realizing when you are having angry thoughts, keep a log of when you feel angry and list the thoughts that are going through your mind at the time you’re feeling angry.

Try to gain a different perspective by putting yourself in another’s place.

Learn how to laugh at yourself and see humor in situations.

Practice good listening skills. Listening can help improve communication and can facilitate trusting feelings between people. This trust can help you deal with potentially hostile emotions.

Learn to assert yourself when you feel strongly about something. Assertiveness is a learned behavior that lies between the two extremes of bottling up emotion or exploding with anger. When you assert yourself, you choose to express your feelings calmly and directly without becoming defensive, hostile, or emotionally charged up. Consult with self-help books on assertiveness or seek help from a professional therapist to learn how to use assertiveness and anger management skills.

What else can I do to deal with my anger in a healthy way?


If you believe that your anger is out of control and is having a negative affect on your life and relationships, you might want to seek the help of a mental health professional. A psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can work with you to develop techniques for changing your thinking and your behavior in response to angry feelings. You can learn to manage your anger in an appropriate way. Choose your therapist carefully and make sure to seek treatment from a professional who is trained to teach anger management and assertiveness skills. In some cases, your therapist may recommend that you see a physician to prescribe medications to help you deal with psychological issues such as depression or anxiety that often underlie chronic anger problems.

Some Other Tips for Easing Up on Yourself


Timing


If you and your spouse tend to fight when you discuss things at night—perhaps you're tired, or distracted, or maybe it's just habit—try changing the times when you talk about important matters so these talks don't turn into arguments.

Avoidance


If your child's chaotic room makes you furious every time you walk by it, shut the door. Don't make yourself look at what infuriates you. Don't say, "well, my child should clean up the room so I won't have to be angry!" That's not the point. The point is to keep yourself calm.

Finding alternatives


If your daily commute through traffic leaves you in a state of rage and frustration, give yourself a project—learn or map out a different route, one that's less congested or more scenic. Or find another alternative, such as a bus or commuter train.

If you feel that your anger is really out of control, if it is having an impact on your relationships and on important parts of your life, you might consider counseling to learn how to handle it better. A psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can work with you in developing a range of techniques for changing your thinking and your behavior.