When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.
The tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain
Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems—problems at work, in personal relationships, in health, and in the overall quality of life.
Anger is “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage,” according to Charles Spielberger, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when someone gets angry, their heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
Research shows that anger and hostility can increase people’s chances of developing coronary heart disease, and lead to worse outcomes in people who already have heart disease. Anger can also lead to stress-related problems including insomnia, digestive problems, and headaches.
The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger
Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on)
Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside.
Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings.
Some simple steps you can try:
- Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest won’t relax you. Picture your breath coming up from your “gut.”
- Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as “relax,” “take it easy.” Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.
Use imagery; visualize a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination. When you’re angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, remind yourself that the world is “not out to get you,” you’re just experiencing some of the rough spots of daily life. Do this each time you feel anger getting the best of you, and it’ll help you get a more balanced perspective.
The first thing to do if you’re in a heated discussion is slow down and think through your responses. Don’t say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.
Listen, too, to what is underlying the anger.
It’s natural to get defensive when you’re criticized, but don’t fight back. Instead, listen to what’s underlying the words: the message that this person might feel neglected and unloved
Give yourself a break. Make sure you have some “personal time” scheduled for times of the day that you know are particularly stressful. Avoid words like “never” or “always” when talking about yourself or others. Statements like “This never works” or “You’re always forgetting things” make you feel your anger is justified. Such statements also alienate people who might otherwise be willing to work with you on a solution.
The goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can’t get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.
You can’t completely eliminate angry feelings. But you can make changes to the way those events affect you, and the ways in which you respond. By making the effort to keep your anger in check, you and the people close to you will be happier for the long run.
The American Psychological Association, APA.org