Can you remember the last time you felt angry, what caused you to feel that way and how you dealt with it? Whether it’s seeing red, feeling the heat, or struggling to breathe; we are all on close terms with anger.
As it is National Anger Awareness Week we wanted to delve a little deeper into how exactly anger is affecting us, and what we can do about it. Anger is a basic human emotion and can be a positive and useful emotion if it is expressed appropriately.
Let’s start by briefly understanding what anger is. Anger triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, which triggers the adrenal glands to flood the body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The brain directs blood away from the gut and towards the muscles, in preparation for physical exertion (fight or flight). Heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase, the body temperature rises and the skin perspires. The mind is sharpened and focused.
Other emotions that trigger this response include fear, anxiety and excitement. Isn’t it fascinating to think that we are physically responding to anger in the same way that we do to excitement, yet how we deal with these two emotions can differ so hugely? What a difference our relationship to an emotion can make.
The constant flood of stress chemicals and associated metabolic changes that go with recurrent anger can eventually cause harm to different systems of the body.
This means that unmanaged or unhealthy anger can impact on every aspect of our life: fatigue, sleep disturbance, digestive problems, lowered sex drive, high blood pressure, a lowered tolerance threshold, increased alcohol, tobacco or drug dependency and weight issues (elevated cortisol levels cause a slower metabolism and weight gain). It can also result in a higher risk of stroke as well as affecting the heart.
“In the two hours after an angry outburst, the chance of having a heart attack doubles,” says Chris Aiken, MD, an instructor in clinical psychiatry at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
So as you can see the affects of unhealthy anger are huge which is why we all need to take responsibility for how we best manage this powerful emotion.
Think back to a time when you were angry. What triggered you to experience that anger? Are you someone who has a tendency to lose control in the moment or are you someone who will suppress the anger? Anger, which is linked to low self-esteem, is not only an issue for those who explode with rage, but can be an equally debilitating issue for someone who finds it difficult to express their anger openly. Do you often compromise yourself to avoid confrontation? When you argue, do you ever feel sad rather than angry, or cry with frustration? If ‘yes’ it is likely you are struggling with how to deal with anger. So what next?
The first step to take is to identify what the triggers are that cause you to feel angry. Once we have an awareness of the triggers, we begin to empower ourselves to make changes as to how we respond to these triggers.
When confronted with a trigger that causes you to feel anger give yourself a moment to pause, breathe and feel your feet on the floor. These three things are so simple yet so powerful. By doing these you have time to make a conscious choice as to how you react, and maybe you want to react differently. Here are some different options in the moment.
If you feel the situation is just too much and you need space then give yourself that and walk away until you feel strong enough to express how you are feeling.
Give yourself time.
If you are ready to confront the issue the moment the anger arises, take your time, breathe, feel your feet on the floor and then proceed to explain why you’re feeling angry and what it is you need.
And again, when the anger arises, pause, breathe, feel your feet on the floor and then choose to use that anger for something positive. Anger can motivate us to make positive changes.
Once the moment has passed, and you have chosen how best to proceed, it is time to begin to let go of the anger and this is very important to help prevent any negative affects on our whole system.
How can we do this?
Do something physical, such as going for a walk or run, or playing a sport. Do some yoga especially focusing on the breathing. Reach out to a friend who will quietly listen as you let off steam by talking through the situation. Treat yourself to a massage.
Whatever it is that helps you begin to unwind after being overwhelmed by anger it is important to not only calm the mind but also begin to release the tension in the body caused by the stress chemicals released. You may want to reach for a glass of wine, which is certainly an option, but you will feel much better if you go for a brief walk before having that drink.