Anger, like any emotion, does play a specific function and can be helpful to us. It can motivate us to act on injustice and achieve positive change.
It can also act as an innate tool to keep us safe, indicating to us that we are in potential danger, thus triggering our flight or fight response.
However, there are times when anger is not functional, and when acted on or used in a dysfunctional way, can actually cause more harm than good. It also has some connection to various mental health issues. But how are they connected, and what strategies are out there to help us manage our anger?
What does anger look like and what are the causes?
There are numerous symptoms and sensations experienced when angry such as those listed in the table below:
We can display, experience and be triggered by anger in numerous ways:
- Injustice or feeling let down.
- Other emotions e.g. embarrassment, shame
- Highly emotional or stressful situations (the death of a loved one, partner separation)
- Unresolved difficulties experienced at a young age
- Mental health difficulties: when feeling low or anxious for a considerable amount of time, it may take far less for us to become angry and snap than we would when feeling calm and upbeat.
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder: this is mental health disorder characterised by sudden bursts of impulsive anger episodes, seemingly out of no where. This is a rarer situation that requires specific symptoms to be diagnosed (e.g. two physical or verbal outbursts weekly for three months).
Sometimes there is an obvious trigger, like those listed above. Other times, less so. It can be a case of things building up over time, whereby a minor issue can lead to an angry outburst.
When does anger become unhelpful?
There is a point where anger becomes unhelpful and dysfunctional, like many emotions. If concerned about how you behave when angry, there a few ways in which anger is projected unhealthily to look out for:
- Physical aggression. This can include aggression towards ourselves as well as others. If our physical health or the physical health of others are impacted, and violence is used, then it is a dysfunctional display of anger.
- Verbal aggression. This can be through swearing, name-calling, and shouting at people. Usually when angry, one of the negative outcomes is saying hurtful things that we don’t necessarily mean, which can cause irreparable harm to a relationship or friendship.
- Passive aggressiveness. Anger is, of course, not always projected in direct aggressive behaviour. Being passively aggressively can include being sarcastic, ignoring someone, denying requests, and being purposefully stubborn.
- Is it the first emotion you go to? Some people use anger when avoiding experiencing other uncomfortable, or maybe more difficult, emotions such as sadness or fear. Sometimes anger and aggression are used as a way of not appearing vulnerable during intense situations.
- Does it happen very frequently? If it is happening on numerous occasions and being used as a sole solution, then it is dysfunctional. This is especially the case when finding common ground to resolve matters, compromise and come to an understanding could have been utilised instead.
- Having a loss of control. If it has become apparent that you have angry outbursts, it is likely characterised by a lack of control and the ability to deescalate your own anger.
How can we manage anger?
Anger management can tackle anger in a few ways:
1) Knowing what to do, there and then, when in anger-triggering situations
2) Understanding and reflecting on why you get angry
3) Being able to spot triggers to prepare for them in future
Here are a few tips you can use from these 3 categories:
- Breathing exercises and walking away. If you feel you are getting angry, sometimes the best thing to do is walk away from the situation, take deep breaths, and return when feeling more in control and calm.
- Using distraction techniques. This is certainly helpful for situations that can not be resolved or changed. You can distract yourself to help calm you down through things like listening to music, watching videos you enjoy or maybe talking to friends.
- Relaxation. This may help to calm you in general . Try to fit in self-care, relaxation activities throughout your week, and you may find improvements in your mood in general.
- Identify your triggers. Are there certain situations that anger you in particular? Disagreements at work, for example? Or possibly whilst driving? Once you have identified your triggers, look out for signs of feeling angry like those listed above. This could include feeling hot and sweaty, your heart beating faster, shaking etc.
- What exactly is making you angry? Once you have recognised that you are angry, try to identify exactly what it is that is making you angry to help you react in a way that is in proportion with the situation.
What can Brighter Life Therapy do to help?
Sometimes self-help steps, like those talked about above, are not enough, and professional help is needed.
If you believe you require professional help, feel free to contact us. We provide fast access to CBT and counselling treatment, which you can read about here. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 0118 40 50 108, or by emailing email@example.com.