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A First Steps guide to
First Steps, Version 2, July 2013 -1- Improving anger and frustration
“I can’t take any more”
…are just a few of the words commonly used to describe anger.
Anger is a normal healthy emotion that is part of our body’s survival mechanism. However, at
times it can be triggered at a time when it is not helpful which can have a significant impact on a persons function, happiness, relationships and self-esteem. Anger and frustration are often associated with loud and aggressive behaviour, but it is just as common for a person to withdraw and ‘bottle up’ their emotions. This booklet aims to give some information on anger with self-help strategies that are known to be helpful in managing anger in a more positive and helpful way.
In a recent survey for the Mental Health Foundation, 28% of adults said they worry about how angry they sometimes feel, and 32% have a friend or relative who has problems dealing with anger.
Using self-help tools The strategies/tools suggested in this handout and during this session are evidence based methods of managing emotions and reducing the effects the way that we feel has on our everyday life. We are all individuals and respond to situations in different ways therefore not every tool will work with everyone. For example, some people find meditation and reading really relaxing, whilst for someone else this could be a cause of stress and their preferred relaxation method is to go to the gym. There are no set rules for managing emotions. A helpful way of thinking about this could be to think “is my current method working for me?” If the answer is yes, then great, but if not, these strategies may be an alternative way that is more productive for you.
As with any new skill, self-help can take time and practice. In the same way that reading a cookery book will not instantly make you a great cook, simply reading this material will not make you instantly happy and healthy. But with time, practice and exploration it is possible for everybody to experience emotional health. Self-help alone may not be adequate for everybody. If you feel that you need more support, it is important to discuss this with your GP. In addition please look at our website (www.firststeps-surrey.nhs.uk), or call our phone line/email us for more advice.
Here at Virgin Care we are keen that this information is shared as widely as possible to help support anyone who might benefit from it. However, can we remind you that it is subject to Copyright Legislation so please do let us know if you plan to reuse or reproduce any of the content
What is anger?
Our levels of anger can vary from being felt as a mild annoyance or irritation to an extreme feeling of rage.
For some people, anger can get out of control and cause problems with relationships, work and even the law. Uncontrolled anger can lead to arguments and physical fights, but sometimes it causes people to ‘bottle up’ emotions and feel withdrawn. It can cloud your thinking and judgment and may lead to actions that are unreasonable and/or irrational.
Uncontrolled anger often leads to feelings of depression and low self-worth.
First Steps -4- Improving anger and frustration What causes anger?
When a person thinks of their cause of anger they often look for something that has happened to them, a situation, event or other people’s behavior. We call these our external causes of anger. We also have a second cause of anger: our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs and interpretation of the event or situation which we call our internal causes of anger.
The two are very closely linked and it is a combination of both the internal and external causes that leads us to feel the way that we do.
Events There may be certain events or situations which are more likely to trigger an angry reaction.
This will be different for different people and could include things such as debt, inconsiderate driving, rude behaviour or harm to a loved one.
Our thinking styles Our interpretation of an event and thoughts that we have about the situation may account for us feeling frustrated or angry. For example, a situation in which we feel wronged in some way can be particularly difficult. Or where we feel that an injustice has been made that we feel is unacceptable. The way we think about anger may also influence the way we express or control it. For example, we may we think that anger should be hidden or “bottled up” rather than expressed. This style of coping may be beneficial in the short term, but will often have a long-term cost. Finding other ways to manage emotions in a more appropriate and sensitive way will have a more positive effect.
Behavioural causes Throughout our lives we learn to react to events or situations in certain ways. This is shaped, and continues to be shaped, by our role models and experiences from birth to the present day. Our learnt experiences often account for the fact that some people seem better able to manage their feelings of frustrations or anger in a constructive and helpful way, whilst others may bottle up their feelings or have unhelpful outbursts. As a consequence a learnt pattern of unhelpful behaviours can build up, which in the long term can become more and more difficult to overcome. It could be that you may not have had the opportunities to learn effective ways of managing and expressing your emotions in the past, but everyone can learn to constructively express their emotions in the future.
Outside world (people, events, noise) Inside world (thoughts, worries, memories) What maintains anger?
There may be a noticeable pattern of triggers to feeling frustrated or angry. For example, whilst driving, looking after the children or when you start talking about money. It might be that our thoughts and experiences in these situation affect how we anticipate the outcome to be in the future, which can cause people to feel ‘stuck’ in a vicious cycle.
There may be consequences which reinforce angry behaviour; both costs and benefits. In some instances people learn that angry behaviour can achieve short-term gain. For example, having others respect your status or getting your own way. It can also be associated with significant long-term costs, such as damaged relationships. Considering and recognising your own benefits and costs is important when looking for more helpful ways of managing frustrations and anger.
When looking more closely at what prevents us from overcoming unhelpful anger, it becomes clear that our behaviour, thoughts, feelings and physical sensations all interact and combine to create a vicious cycle of anger.
The diagram below illustrates the link between the situation, the thoughts we are having in the situation, how we behaved, how our body felt and our mood. When we are angry we are usually aware of our emotions, “angry and frustrated”, however we are sometimes less aware of the way we are thinking or feeling physically, which are often the things which maintains the emotion.
Bodily signs of anger can lead us to feel out of control and this can make our mood worse. The angry “hot” thoughts can make us feel even more enraged
Does a similar vicious circle of anger happen to you? Using the cycle of anger diagram below, see if you can think of a situation in which you felt particularly angry and/or frustrated and identify the thoughts that you were having at the time.
Anger is a last-ditch survival response, designed to help us survive when faced with a life-ordeath situation. This response is called our ‘fight or flight’ response. Our bodies are not designed to sustain a prolonged period of heightened arousal. Hence constant anger in a person can lead to physiological problems due to the strain on the body.
Other emotions that trigger this response include fear, excitement and anxiety. The adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol. The brain diverts blood away from the gut and towards the muscles, in preparation for physical exertion, whilst our heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase, the body temperature rises and the skin perspires. The mind becomes more focused and alert.
Here’s how anger affects a person…
The constant flood of stress chemicals and associated metabolic changes that accompany recurrent unmanaged anger can eventually cause harm to many different systems of the body. Some of the short- and long-term health problems that have been linked to
unmanaged anger include:
Helpful facts about anger and frustration Anger can be a positive and empowering emotion if used constructively. Anger is a normal emotional response which everyone experiences from time to time. The goal of effective anger control is not to eliminate anger altogether, but to learn to channel it into behaviour that is productive not destructive. The use of more positive behaviours such as problem solving and assertiveness can improve your life.
Aggression is a learnt behaviour that can be changed. Motivation and commitment to change are essential to successful anger control. Although we may be born with the potential to be aggressive, we learn different ways of behaving as we develop and mature, which are influenced by those around us. For some of us this might mean we learn to be aggressive or to bottle up our feelings. However, in the same way as our body may have learnt to react in an unhelpful way, we can teach our bodies to react in a more helpful, constructive manner.
The beliefs that we develop influence the way we understand people and situations.
Our learnt beliefs affect how we see a situation and can lead us to behave in a certain way.
Holding irrational beliefs can lead to irrational behaviour. This relates to long-term thoughts and our views about how the world should be. For example, believing that life should always be fair inevitably leads to disappointment and frustration, and can ultimately result in us taking our frustrations out on others. Recognising that life is not always fair can give us a different perspective on life.
First Steps - 10 - Improving anger and frustration An understanding of what we think affects the way we behave. This increases our ability to control ourselves. Recognising our thoughts and feelings about an event or situation, and the impact they have, is one of the first steps to controlling our behaviour.
Recognising patterns of thinking, such as the tendency to think in an ‘all or nothing’ way may help you to identify your negative thoughts so that you can then challenge them. Learning to challenge these thoughts by considering alternative explanations can reduce conflict and the potential for aggression.
What you feel affects the way you think and behave. Positive and negative feelings are common to us all. The degree to which we experience these emotions affects our perceptions of situations and also the way that we react. Recognising our negative emotions and learning to reduce their impact on our thoughts can help us control our behaviour.
Anger has a physical component. An awareness of how the body reacts physically can be used as an early warning sign to help you calm down by using coping strategies before it is too late. Symptoms such as increased heart rate and tense muscles can be alleviated through techniques such as relaxation.
Aggression almost always results in negative consequences for ourselves and others.
Knowing the negative short- and long-term consequences of aggression reinforces the understanding that it is always better to manage anger and frustration. Managing aggressive impulses can result in better relationships, increased self-esteem and more positive consequences in general.
Knowing the specific factors that are likely to make you aggressive will help you to cope with them as they arise. Underlying factors such as negative life experiences can influence the way that you view the world and make you particularly sensitive.
Loss of control is usually a result of a build up of small irritants that have not been dealt with. These, along with everyday pressures can work together to create an aggressive reaction that is out of proportion to the actual situation. Sometimes the final trigger or ‘last straw’ can be a relatively minor incident.
An imbalance of chores and pleasures in your general lifestyle could increase the likelihood of feeling angry or frustrated. Looking after yourself and your needs will make life more pleasurable and rewarding.
If you partially empty your jug on a daily basis, you can avoid it ‘over-flowing’ which will help you to reduce your symptoms and to feel more in control. It may be that you are unable to change the main contributor to your stress, but if you can do something about your other sources of stress, you will feel better able to cope.
You can empty a little out of your jug on a daily basis by using self-help techniques to:
There are many beliefs surrounding anger that only help to maintain feelings of stress and anger. The beliefs are sometimes held because of life experiences or personal values. Some people may have lived with these beliefs for a long time and have become to accept them as truths. It is important to question these beliefs and see how true they really are.
“I’ve inherited my anger from my mother/father so I can’t do anything about it” Although people can be born with tendencies towards being more emotional, it is the way we react to our environment that is the cause of our anger and this is a learnt behaviour that can be changed.
“If I don’t let my anger out, I’ll explode” Whilst it is true that keeping your anger in can be bad for your health, it is important to make sure you release and manage your anger in a way that is assertive rather than aggressive.