Much like happiness and sadness, it seems fair to say that we have all felt anger at some point in our lives, that we are all familiar with it in one way or another. After all, the American Psychological Association (APA) describes anger as a natural human experience, a normal, usually healthy human emotion.
A person’s reasons for getting mad can certainly be valid, like feeling hurt by what someone said or did, feeling frustrated by a situation at work or home, worry about personal problems, or being triggered by traumatic events. When it becomes difficult to control however, anger can interfere with a person’s physical health, personal relationships and emotional wellbeing.
Research shows that anger and hostility can eventually lead to stress-related problems like insomnia, digestive problems and headaches. When a person gets angry, his or her heart rate, blood pressure, energy hormones and adrenaline increase. Anger can also contribute to violent and risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use.
Anger presents itself in different forms. Some people feel it often or dwell on an instance that made them mad. Some may be irritable and grumpy on a regular basis, withdraw socially or become physically ill. Others may not get angry often, but when are, it’s very obvious.
People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration. One contributor may be sociocultural. Anger is often regarded as negative, and as a result, we may not have learned how to handle it constructively. Research has also found that family background can play a role. People who are easily angered often come from families that are disruptive and lack skills for communicating emotion.
It may not be humanly possible to completely rid yourself of angry feelings, but you can certainly make changes to the way events or others affect you and the ways in which you respond to them. Here are some tips from the APA to try out.
- Cognitive restructuring, or changing the way you think. Remind yourself that getting angry will not make you feel better, it may actually make you feel worse.
- Relaxation. Identify warning signs that you’re becoming irritated. Simple relaxation such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery can help calm down angry feelings.
- Better Communication. If a discussion becomes “heated,” slow down and think through your responses.
- Changing Your Environment. Sometimes our immediate surroundings are the source of our anger, leaving us feeling “trapped.” Try to have some personal time scheduled for points of the day you feel most stressed. For example, Mom set a rule that for the first fifteen minutes after she arrives home from work, “nobody talks to Mom unless the house is on fire.” This time makes her feel better prepared to handle demands from her kids.
- Get active. Regular physical exercise can help you release tension and reduce stress.
If you feel that anger is negatively impacting your relationships and other important areas of your life, counseling may help you handle it better. Some mental health professionals specialize in anger management and offer counseling in individual and group settings.
Gina Pellrine, LMSW