We’ve all been there. Something doesn’t go our way, we feel that rush to the head, and we say or do something stupid in the heat of an angry moment.
I’m always amazed at how well people get on with each other most of the time, but the reality is that all of us will get angry from time to time, ranging from mildly annoyed to an all-consuming rage.
Why do we get angry?
Our bodies and minds have a nervous system that prepares us for fighting or running if we are threatened, known as the fight or flight response. It was a very good system when human beings were living in the wild to help protect us from tigers and snakes and other life-threatening predators.
The problem occurs in modern life when our nervous system sets off an angry response, usually in response to daily frustrations, annoyances, or feelings of fear.
Often anger is made worse by our own unhelpful self-talk; “everyone is against me”, “it’s not fair” or “people are so annoying”. These, along with a whole range of other possible negative self-talk only pours fuel onto the fire of anger.
However it’s also important to realise there are appropriate times for anger, and appropriate ways to express it. You might be asserting yourself against someone who’s been taking advantage of you or protecting yourself in a threatened situation.
The problem is when anger gets out of control and can expand into a full-blown rage. In this situation the momentum of anger overwhelms rational problem solving, and there is also a risk that you’ll say or do something that you’ll later regret.Research tells us that in the long-term, anger can have negative effects on our physical wellbeing. This could be in the form of high blood pressure, an increased chance of developing heart disease, as well as an increase in the likelihood of developing stomach ulcers, muscle tension and body aches.
Some signs that your anger has become a problem include increasing relationship problems at home or work, instances of violent or abusive behaviour, comments from friends or family telling you that you have an anger problem, if you’re overreacting to small issues (like the traffic lights turning red!), if you are using alcohol and drugs to manage your anger, and if you are feeling regret, depression or anxiety afterwards.
Tips to help manage unhealthy anger
- Work out what your triggers are: if you know that certain people or behaviours are likely to set you off, prepare yourself in advance or if necessary, avoid these triggers entirely.
- Accept that it’s okay to get angry sometimes: try to express your frustrations by being honest, assertive and upfront about things that bother you. If you don’t, anger can bubble away inside and then reach boiling point.
- Notice those early signs of anger such as a racing heart, flushed face, trembling hands and gritting your teeth; take some time out and walk away before anger escalates. Take ten deep breaths, counting to three slowly for each inhalation and exhalation.
- If angry outbursts are happening routinely be proactive in lowering your stress levels. Doing regular exercise can help a lot as well as learning some relaxation strategies such as mindfulness and meditation.
- Try to step back and see the humour or the funny side of the situation. Nothing counteracts anger like a smile. Ask yourself how much will this issue matter in a week, in a month, in a year?
- Learn to identify any negative thoughts you may have such as, everyone is against me, they always say or do this, this is everybody else’s fault, and learn to challenge this sort of negative thinking.
If you are becoming violent or abusive then you need to seek professional help early to better understand how to manage your anger, and to make sure you and others are safe.
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