Anger is what you feel when provoked, and the emotion of anger ranges from irritation to rage. When we think of anger, we often think of it in a negative light. Let’s think about it for a while – Is anger always a negative thing? The answer is no! First of all, anger is a normal human emotion, so that we all feel annoyed, irritated, frustrated or angry at times. Anger is a normal response to many situations. It is a normal part of grief, for example. Anger can also have constructive effects, as it may energise us, motivate us to communicate more or to make positive changes in life.
On the other hand, anger can trigger problems, if it is very intense and expressed in aggressive ways towards objects, animals or people. When this happens, anger can have a negative impact on others, your life and relationships. It may lead to problems with the law, and health problems (e.g. raising blood pressure, drinking more alcohol).
It is important to be aware of what causes you to react in anger. Anger may be triggered by life events or stresses (e.g. running late, work or money worries). It might be associated with other feelings such as shame, hurt, guilt or fear. It is also important to notice the signs in your body letting you know that you are becoming angry, such as feeling flushed, muscle tension, racing heart (very similar to the ‘fight’ response in our ‘fight-flight’ reaction to threat).
The anger reaction is also accompanied by thoughts and behaviours. Anger can be linked to thinking that we have been treated unfairly, or prevented from obtaining something we expected to achieve. In relationships, anger is often related to expectations of the other person not being met. It is important to consider how realistic those expectations are, and whether they have been clearly communicated to the other person.
In managing anger, we can work on understanding the thinking associated with the anger. If we are more aware of our thoughts associated with feeling angry, we can then challenge any unrealistic or unhelpful thinking. Anger is often triggered by ‘catastrophising’ the situation, ‘black and white’ thinking, believing the situation is unjust, or blaming yourself or others. Sometimes we need to replace thinking “it’s not fair” or “it’s their fault”, with “bad things sometimes happen”, or “they couldn’t help it.”
What you need to consider is whether the anger is a problem for you. Do you get very angry, or stay very angry? Do you act aggressively, or does anger interfere with your work or relationships? If you answer yes to questions such as these, then learning skills in managing anger will be very important for you.
Tips for managing anger:
- Recognise warning signs of anger in your body e.g. muscle tension, teeth grinding.
- Don’t bottle frustrations up or brood – work out what is really bothering you, communicate about it if it is important to you, or let off steam through talking, exercise or expressing yourself creatively.
- Practice stress management techniques regularly e.g. having a healthy lifestyle, getting enough sleep, doing regular exercise, using relaxation techniques or having a laugh.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Pick your battles, and remember there are some things you cannot change!
- Work on communicating effectively – other people cannot read your mind, so let them know if you feel frustrated about something e.g. invite them to sit down and talk about it.
- Put the anger aside and deal with the problem instead.
- Look for the positives in situations, and watch your thinking – are you being too ‘black and white’ about a situation or ‘catastrophising’ it. Ask yourself if it is worth getting angry about, and use calming thoughts e.g. “calm down”.
- Take time out if you are angry, and breathe, count to ten, tune into your senses or go for a quick walk.
- Remember your rights and the rights of others – to have an opinion, to be treated respectfully.
- Know what your troublesome angry behaviours are, accept responsibility and work on them; or seek help if you would benefit from learning anger management or assertiveness skills.
If you would like to understand anger more or think you may have a problem with anger, there is information on line:
- On anger at http://www.helpguide.org/mental/anger_management_control_tips_techniques.htm
- On assertiveness at http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/
And consider Anger Management or Assertiveness courses run by organisations such as Relationships Australia: http://www.relationships.org.au/