Anger is an intense feeling which occurs in response to a person feeling frustrated, hurt, disappointed or threatened. It is a naturally occurring emotion experienced by human beings. Although anger is a natural feeling, the action that follows is a choice. Thus, anger and aggression do not have to be linked since aggression is a behaviour which can be controlled. When anger gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to several problems. These include: problems at work, in personal relationships and in the overall quality of life.
When a person is feeling angry they go through biological changes. The heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of energy hormones such as adrenaline. Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. A few examples include: when a person is mean to you, getting stuck in a traffic jam, having a flight cancelled and being treated unfairly. Worrying about personal problems or reexperiencing traumatic memories may also trigger angry feelings.
Not everyone deals with anger in the same way. Usually anger is either expressed or suppressed. The healthiest way to express anger is to do so assertively. This can be achieved by making your needs clear and to meet them without hurting others. In this way, you can respect yourself and others. When you hold your anger and do not think about it, anger is suppressed. The danger with suppressing anger is that if it is not expressed, anger can be directed towards the self. This may cause high blood pressure or depression. Unexpressed anger can lead to passive-aggressive behaviour which may result in hostility.
The following are a few tips to help you express anger in a healthy way.
- Think before you speak – When you feel angry you might say something which you will regret once you have calmed down. This can happen face-to-face or through technology e.g. when sending an email or a text message. Thus, when feeling angry take a few moments to collect your thoughts before saying anything. Once you feel calmer express yourself in an assertive manner rather than in a confrontational way.
- Physical exercise – Engaging in physical activity can help to reduce stress. Taking a timeout when anger starts escalating can help you to have a few moments of quiet time to calm down and deal with the situation. Going for a walk, run or doing some meditation can help you achieve this. Learn to practice deep-breathing exercises or imaging a relaxing scene to help you feel more in control of your emotions.
- Identify solutions – When feeling angry, you might focus on what made you angry and forget to think about how to solve a problem. If you notice that there is a specific recurrent issue which is making you feel angry, you may need to change the way you look at the situation. For example, if seeing your child’s room in a messy state makes you angry just close the door.
- ‘I’ statements – To avoid putting blame onto another person and fuelling each other’s anger, own your feelings and statements. Thus, rather than saying “you are such an idiot you never offer to help me” you can say “I feel frustrated that I always have to do things by myself”.
- Seek help – Learning how to control anger can be quite a challenging task. If you notice that there is an issue which keeps recurring and making you feel distressed, seek the help of a professional. Remember that the first step towards change is awareness.
Dr Marilyn Muscat is registered as an Educational Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council in the United Kingdom where she trained. She works with children, adolescents and their families to understand more about educational, social and emotional well-being concerns that they have and to help them improve upon their difficulties.