Anger: An introduction and some basic steps to deal with it
Anger is a very stressful and energising emotion. It is a normal response when we feel threatened or when thinking we have been treated unfairly. Sometimes feeling angry can be a very appropriated and healthy response.
What is anger?
However, there are other times when something around us, the way someone looks at us, the way someone says something can trigger this response. We can misinterpret situations; we can think we have been criticised or attacked in some way which then starts the angry cycle.
When we get into the habit to respond in this way this can be very hard to change, however, we can learn how to think and act differently.
Changing our responses to anger
Thoughts - tendency to add meanings to situations or in interactions with others. Thoughts might include: it’s unfair, I have been treated unfairly, they are wrong and I am under attack.
Emotions - anger, rage, frustration, anxiety, depression, shame and guilt can all follow the anger cycle.
Physical arousal - adrenaline is released when we feel under attack. It energises the body providing an urge or readiness to deal with the situation
By using the following STOPP technique you can learn how to think and act differently.
- Stop and take a break.
- Observe - ask yourself - what am I reacting to? What I am feeling and thinking?
- Pull back and put it into perspective - is this a fact or opinion? Am I misreading the situation?
- Practice what works - do the best thing for you or the situation. What would help most?
Frustration, venting and rumination.
When people are angry they often talk about being frustrated and then getting angry.
Frustration is an emotion that we all experience from time to time. Frustration is the feeling that happens when you are hindered while trying to reach a goal. It is the feeling we get when you expect something different to what really happened. Often occurs when we have expectations for ourselves or others which are too high or not reachable.
It may be helpful to find ways to control the degree of frustration we feel in our everyday life, this can be achieved by changing things we do or thoughts we have when we feel frustrated. These strategies have been proved to be helpful when trying to accept feelings of frustration:
- know the triggers to your frustration
- be aware of your unrealistic expectations and beliefs
- accept the struggle you are facing
- follow any strategies around problem-solving
- set realistic goals for yourself
- communicate with effectiveness and assertivenes
By venting you are letting feelings of anger off your chest. When people are venting their anger they often feel better immediately afterwards. However, for some people not long after venting their anger they report feeling guilty, ashamed or sad for the hurt they have caused another person.
In the past venting was thought to be helpful and healthy for reducing anger difficulties. However recent studies suggested that venting is not healthy because it increases the changes of further anger in the future
Rumination is the dwelling and deep thinking about something. Some forms of rumination can be unhealthy both emotionally and physically. As people, we bring things into our minds (thoughts, memories, events) and chew them over and over.
Anger rumination can focus on angry memories, thoughts of revenge and injustice.
Studies have shown that in ruminative anger cortisol and adrenaline levels increase as part of the flight-fight response. However, if the person does not flight or fight these hormones stay in the blood affecting the immune system, sleep and emotional well being. High levels of these of hormones have been linked to heart disease and depression. Evidence also suggests that by ruminating about previous angering experiences may play an important part in the development of cardiovascular disease.
Finally, there are times when anger can be helpful but often getting angry can cause problems. Usually, if the costs of anger are greater than the benefits of anger, there is a problem.