Get angry. It is normal and entirely unavoidable. We all express anger differently. Some of us throw objects, hit walls, or scream at those that irritate us. Others shut down and turn the anger inwards. Both reactions are unhealthy ways to express and deal with anger that harms us or those around us.
The goal of anger management is to find the root of the feeling and deal with it in a healthy and controlled manner. Be assertive in your response to anger by clearly expressing your needs, communicating how you believe these needs could be met, and remaining respectful and aware of your feelings and those of the people around you throughout the interaction.
Effects of Chronic Anger
Anger becomes chronic when you experience frequent flare-ups and regularly fail to control your temper. Out-of-control anger may scare you and those around you. It causes various other physical, emotional, and social effects as well.
Anger and anxiety trigger our body’s ‘fight or flight’ warning system. When we activate this response system, our bodies release stress-specific hormones, such as; adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones inform the body that its muscles require more blood for potential physical exertion.
The excessive amount of these hormones released in chronically angry individuals poses a significant risk to our hearts. The physical symptoms of anger are as follows.
- Quickened Heart Rate
- Raised Blood Pressure
- Weakened Immune System
- Increased Body Temperature
- Quickened Respirations
- Increased Perspiration
The physical symptoms above can lead to chronic headaches, digestive issues, skin irritation, and heart problems.
Anger places our bodies under an immense amount of stress. The release of an excessive amount of cortisol affects our amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. These brain regions work together to maintain our emotions, retain information, and make decisions. The mental effects of anger are as follows.
- Poor Decision Making
- Depression and Anxiety
- Reduced Memory Capabilities
- Difficulty Sleeping
Instinctively, most of us respond to anger with aggression. This aggression and surge of power are the natural expressions of feeling anger. These responses allow us to overcome or remove ourselves from dangerous situations. Unfortunately, our body reacts similarly to irritants, annoyances, and other internal and external events with anger. Societal norms and governmental laws limit our expression of anger. When we fail to respond to anger in a socially acceptable and healthy manner, we may incur the following social effects.
- Strained Relationships
- Career Instability
- Reduced Quality of Life
- Passive-Aggressive Behaviors
- Frequent Confrontation
Explosive and aggressive expressions of anger alienate and hurt those around you. Angry people often come across as demanding, cynical, and hostile. In some cases, angry behavior can also land you in legal trouble and take control of your life.
The Roots of Anger
Feeling out of control is frightening. Some of us experience more intense anger than others and may need help learning how to manage it. Identifying the reason behind our anger or the root of it is the first step in the process.
Some of us were born with a tendency to respond with intense and insistent anger. Low tolerance for frustration is the primary reason behind ingrained anger and irritability. Mental illness, life experiences, and thinking patterns can also result in intense feelings of anger and the enhanced physiological arousal that stems from the emotion.
Several forms of mental illness intensify feelings of anger. Anxiety, depression, chronic stress, PTSD, and other forms of trauma enable us to be more easily angered. Treating the underlying mental illness and anger management techniques would allow us to change our response to the triggering emotion or fear causing our anger.
How our role models managed and responded to their anger suggests how we will react and respond to our own. If a child grows up in an environment where the parent’s anger is physically aggressive, they may grow up to express the emotion aggressively or hide the feeling out of shame. Reversing a learned behavior requires us to relearn new behaviors in their place. Anger management, therapy, and stress management skills could help.
Negative Thinking Patterns
Negative thinking patterns play an enormous role in igniting and fueling anger. These negative ways of thinking allow us to focus on something other than our feelings. These thinking patterns are detrimental to our progress in learning to manage our anger.
- Overgeneralizing- Do you find yourself constantly thinking or stating words such as; always, never, everyone, nobody, everything, and nothing? If you’ve answered yes to the following question, you have the negative thinking pattern of overgeneralizing.
- Black and White Thinking- A ‘this or that’ mentality forces situations and people to either meet standards or fall short. Black and white thinking patterns mean that more things are aligned negatively due to the lack of categories between success and failure.
- Assumptions- Feeling frequently disrespected, ignored, or triggered may indicate that we are making too many assumptions. We can not assume that we know someone else’s thoughts or intentions. The best way to manage this negative thinking pattern is to communicate and ask other people for their thoughts rather than assume we know them.
- Build Up- Another negative thought pattern that triggers explosive anger is allowing build-up. When we build up emotions due to inconveniences and irritations, we ignore the positive things until a minor inconvenience sets us off.
- Blame Games- Any time we fail to take responsibility for our emotions, actions, and behaviors, then attribute them to external factors, we play a blame game. It’s a negative thinking pattern that reinforces the idea that we have no control over our anger.
Acknowledging the roots of your anger is an excellent first step to learning anger management. Determining the warning signs associated with anger is a helpful second step. Next time you are feeling angry, embrace it. Focus attention on the location of the feeling and how it feels. The following physical symptoms are examples of anger warning signs.
- Stiffness in Neck and Shoulders
- Clenched Jaw and Hands
- Quickened Breathing
- Pounding Chest and Racing Heartbeat
- Difficulty Thinking Clearly
- Headaches and Tension
- Anxious Movements or Thoughts
- Perspiration and Nervous Stomach Aching
If we notice these warning signs before our anger burns, it could allow us to restructure our thoughts and determine what is causing the feeling. We could then examine the emotion rather than suppressing the warning signs.
Tips to Manage Anger
Once we understand where and how anger affects our bodies, we can utilize the following tips to manage our anger. Remember that anger is a valid emotion. Do not suppress it. The following tips advise how to redirect and express our anger in healthy manners.
Depending on the intensity and frequency of anger, lifestyle changes could be a simple fix. Practicing the following eight lifestyle choices could lessen the strength of the emotion and its persistence.
- Practice Deep Breathing Exercise
- Use Senses to Get Out of Your Head
- Try Stretching and Massaging Tension Areas
- Practice Meditation and other Relaxation Techniques
- Talk Things Out with a Trusted Confidante
- Sleep 7-9 Hours a Night
- Exercise 30 Minutes Each Day
- Consider the Effects of Caffeine, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs
Anger changes the way we think then our thinking ignites anger. It’s a cycle that requires us to break it. That’s where cognitive restructuring is helpful. Cognitive restructuring essentially means changing our thought processes and destroying our negative thinking patterns.
We can cognitively restructure our thoughts by acknowledging our negative thoughts, their resulting behaviors, and our expectations. Determine where these thoughts, behaviors, and expectations become negative and trigger anger. Once we’ve acknowledged the existence and determined the trigger, we can evaluate healthier ways of thinking.
Group therapy, individual therapy, and anger management classes can help us more deeply explore our anger. Therapy and anger management dive into the causes and effects of anger. The professional that leads these sessions advises on coping techniques, tips and skills for anger management, and healthy forms of expression.
Expressions of Anger
Charles Spielberger, Ph.D., states, “Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.” Everyone feels different amounts of anger towards individual things. We then express the feeling in a variation of conscious and subconscious ways. These forms of expression generally align with the following three approaches.
Expressing anger is the healthiest way of processing this emotion. Remain calm, respectful, and assertive when expressing anger. Express the situation by clearly stating the issue and how we expect to correct it. Another way to think of the expressing approach to anger is sharing. When expressing emotions, we share how we feel and why. Then problem solve on how we can feel better.
When we redirect our anger towards another feeling, thought, or activity, we suppress it. Suppressing anger is helpful if we convert the feelings into something positive. We can channel negative emotions into constructive activities. Suppressing anger is damaging if we redirect it inward. Doing this is essentially channeling the anger into unexpressed anger.
Taking control of behavior and internal responses allows us to calm down. When we let our feelings settle and think through them by lowering our heart rate, breathing deeply, and counting to ten, we use the calming technique for anger management.