«Anger: a powerful emotion “ I get this bubble of When was the last time you really lost it? Was it when your child ran across the road and rage. I ...»
Anger and how to deal with it
Anger: a powerful emotion
“ I get this bubble of When was the last time you really lost it? Was
it when your child ran across the road and
rage. I go wild. I feel like
narrowly missed being run down? Or when
crying cos I don’t know
someone elbowed you out of the way to get on
how to control myself. It the bus? Or was it when you were rejected for a
happens too quickly.” job you thought you deserved to get?
We all feel angry at times and it’s a natural response to threats and attacks, injustice and disappointment. Anger is a powerful emotion and releasing the pressure that builds inside you is often essential to let you deal with problems and move on. But if anger isn’t dealt with in a healthy way, it can have a significant effect on your daily life, relationships, achievements and mental wellbeing.
This booklet outlines how anger works and explains the benefits of keeping your anger level under control or expressing it in a constructive way. It also describes some of the tactics you can use to manage your anger more effectively and minimise the personal costs of times when anger gets the better of you.
What is anger?
Anger is one of the most basic human emotions. It is a physical and mental response to a threat or to harm done in the past. Anger takes many different forms from irritation to blinding rage or resentment that festers over many years.
At any point in time, a combination of physical, mental and social factors interact to make us feel a certain way. It’s different for each of us. Our feelings are influenced by our emotional make-up, how we view the world, what happens around us and our circumstances. Like other emotions, anger rarely acts alone.
Anger and how to deal with it How does anger work?
As we go about our lives, we’re constantly weighing up situations and deciding what we think about them: good or bad, safe or unsafe etc. How we interpret a situation influences how we feel about it. If we think a situation means ‘you are in danger’, we feel afraid. If it means ‘you have been wronged’, we feel angry.
And these feelings determine how we react to the situation. We translate meanings into feelings very fast. With anger, that speed sometimes means that we react in ways we later regret.
From the moment we are born, we are observing events, giving them meanings and making associations between them. From our experience we learn to size up each situation. That decides which emotion influences what we do next.
How do our bodies respond to anger?
“ My heart was racing, Many of our emotions are linked to a particular I was physically tense, physical response. Anger gets the mind and body
At the same time as these physical changes, anger is thought to affect the way we think. When we are first faced with a threat, anger helps us quickly translate complex information into simple terms: ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for instance. This can be useful in an emergency as we don’t waste valuable time weighing up information that doesn’t instantly affect our safety or wellbeing.
But it can mean that we act before we’ve considered what else is relevant and made a rational decision about how to behave. It may be that we need to take more time to look at the situation and deal with it differently. When anger gets in the way of rational thinking we may give way to the urge to act aggressively, propelled by the instinct to survive or protect someone from a threat.
Cool down Why do we get angry?
“ I could scream down the throat of people who try to crowd into the train before people have the chance to get off.” The situations that trigger anger today are much the same as those faced by
our ancestors. They include:
facing a threat to ourselves or our loved ones being verbally or physically assaulted suffering a blow to our self-esteem or our place within a social group being interrupted when pursuing a goal losing out when money is at stake someone going against a principle that we consider important being treated unfairly and feeling powerless to change this feeling disappointed by someone else or in ourselves having our property mistreated
Whether or not we feel someone has wronged us on purpose is a crucial factor in whether we become angry. Our recent experience can also influence our reactions. If you’re having a bad day and are in a state of constant tension, you’re more likely to snap when the fifth thing in a row goes wrong, even if it’s something that wouldn’t usually bother you.
Anger and how to deal with it
We may feel angry immediately or only feel angry later as we recall a situation.
Anger that comes to the surface years later sometimes has its roots in abuse or neglect long ago. Sometimes anger hangs around inside us for decades because it wasn’t dealt with sufficiently at the time.
Faced with the same situation, some people will feel angry and others will not.
Some will show their anger, in a variety of ways, while others will keep their anger to themselves.
As well as differences between the ways that individuals react to trigger situations, people’s responses can vary according to their gender, age, ethnicity, religion, social position or family history. The expectations of the people close to us or of society in general can influence how we act. For example, some people think it less acceptable for women to raise their voice in anger than for men to do the same. That may be why women tend to internalise their anger more than men, turning it in on themselves rather than letting it out in words or actions.
Throughout our lives we get used to behaving in set ways in reaction to certain situations. These ‘learnt behaviours’ can form a pattern which is sometimes hard to break. The way that parents behave when they are angry can influence how their children deal with anger throughout their lives so it’s important that parents set a good example.
Cool down How do people behave when they are angry?
Anger isn’t always negative. It can be a force for good. Moral outrage can drive people to campaign for change, right wrongs and enforce the rules that govern our society.
People often think of anger and aggression as the same thing, but researchers estimate that people get aggressive just 10% of the times that they get angry.
Anger is an emotional state and aggression is just one of the ways that people behave when they are angry. Aggressive behaviour can be physical or verbal and gives the signal that someone intends to cause harm. It can mean people become violent towards others or throw things. Aggression often takes over when people act on their instinct to protect themselves or others. Alcohol can make some people act more aggressively and drug use can similarly lower our inhibitions.
People often express their anger verbally. They may shout, threaten, use dramatic words, bombard someone with hostile questions or exaggerate the impact on them of someone else’s action.
Some people who are angry get their own back indirectly by acting the martyr.
They get their own way by making other people feel guilty and playing on that guilt. Others develop a cynical attitude and constantly criticise everything, but never address problems constructively.
Some people internalise their anger. They may be seething inside and may physically shake, but they don’t show their anger in the way they behave when they are around other people.
People who internalise their anger may self-harm when they are angry because they find it hard to deal with their emotions. They deliberately harm themselves, usually in secret, as a way of coping with intense feelings they can’t express another way. Self-harm is most common among young people. They may feel it gives them a release from their anger, but any relief is only temporary and, like many more obvious ways of expressing anger, self-harming doesn’t solve problems long term.
Anger and how to deal with it
What kind of problems can be linked to anger?
Anger in itself is neither good nor bad, but it becomes a problem when it harms us or other people. Anger is the emotion most likely to cause problems in relationships in the family, at work and with friends. People with a long term anger problem tend to be poor at making decisions, take more risks than other people and are more likely to have a substance misuse problem.
Long term and intense anger has been linked with mental health problems including depression, anxiety and self-harm. It is also linked to poorer overall physical health as well as particular conditions from high blood pressure, colds and flu to coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and gastro-intestinal problems.
Why do people tend to neglect anger problems?
Reports show that anger problems are as common as depression and anxiety, but people experiencing difficulties with anger often fail to identify their anger or see it as a problem. They rarely seek support and may be more likely to see other people as the problem.
If a member of their family or colleagues persuade them to seek help, they may be less willing to take on board any advice they are given than if they had asked for support themselves. Changing how you behave takes effort and can be made easier by the support of family and friends.
Cool down How can managing my anger help me?
“ If I could have expressed my anger more openly and constructively it would have been less damaging to me. Otherwise you carry the hurt with you.” Most people get angry quite often, but their anger is within a normal and healthy range. Other people experience anger frequently and intensely enough for it to interfere with their everyday life.
Both sets of people can benefit from learning how to deal with their anger more effectively. There’s lots of evidence to suggest that managing your anger in a healthy way can help people look after their mental and physical health, feel more positive about themselves, achieve their goals, solve problems and enjoy relationships with the people around them.
Anger can lead you to action, or even violence, you will regret. Keeping your temper under control can also save you from yourself, helping you to avoid the trouble or humiliation that may follow an outburst. Bottling up your anger for a long time isn’t a good thing either. It’s important to deal with anger and move on, not let it stew inside you.
Anger and how to deal with it
How can I manage my own anger?
Buying time: practical ways to calm down When you feel the first surge of anger boiling up inside you, pause for a moment. Think about what has made you angry, think about the consequences of exploding in a rage and then choose how to respond.
Delaying your reaction can make all the difference between blowing your top and dealing with the situation calmly and constructively. Even in the middle of an argument, it’s not too late to take a deep breath and choose to express your feelings differently. Give rational thinking time to kick in.
Cool down There are other activities which may help you almost immediately, later the
same day or if you make them part of your lifestyle longer term:
Work off your anger through exercise – channelling your energy into exercise instead will increase the release of feel good brain chemicals called endorphins which help us relax Use relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation – techniques like these challenge the physical aspects of anger, such as the brain chemicals that prepare you to fight, before these chemicals lead you to act impulsively
Tell people that you are feeling angry and why Talk slowly and clearly Use the word “I” to make it about you, not about them Make requests rather than demands or threats Say “I could” and “I might'' instead of “I must” or “I should” Assertiveness training tends to be aimed at people who find it hard to speak up for themselves, not at people who may need to convert their aggression to assertiveness. Self-help guidance may give you useful tips on assertive communication and body language.
“ I managed to talk to her later and that completely cleared the air.” Good communication skills can help you get your message across. Keep the lines of communication open. Listen to other people’s point of view. Assuming you know where they stand can create a problem where there is none and escalate a situation from bad to worse.
Being good at solving problems can help you avoid feeling like a victim when something doesn’t go well. Some problems are beyond your power to change.
If you accept that, you can concentrate on working out what you can change.
For instance, you could give yourself more time to complete tasks when you expect they’ll be frustrating.
Protecting your mental health Feeling stressed out makes us more likely to lose our temper and people in good mental health are better able to cope when things go wrong.
Keep physically active Eat a balanced diet – some foods are more effective than others at supplying us with a steady flow of fuel to help us function well, while nutrients found in certain foods can affect mood in different ways Drink sensibly, however tempted you may be to improve your mood with a drink or by using drugs Keep in touch with friends and loved ones - talk about your feelings with them and ask for help when you need it Take time to relax and enjoy yourself Accept who you are and do something you’re good at Care for others
How can I deal with other people’s anger?
Being on the receiving end of anger or just being a witness to it can be tough.
Many people put up with regular displays of anger from people close to them because they love them, fear them or feel that they deserve no better. But if other people’s anger is really getting you down, you shouldn’t have to put up with it.
Anger tends to be catching, but staying calm yourself can help both of you. If you get angry as well, things can quickly escalate.