It’s normal to feel angry, but what happens when it gets out of control? Lyn Beasy* explains how to take control of anger in everyday life.
At this time of year, there are extra pressures and expectations on us. We can find that many things make us angry: busy shops, fighting for a car space, driving in extra traffic, managing family dynamics or too many social events.
Anger is a normal feeling we all experience. It tells us that something isn’t right. Anger can let us know when we are being hurt, threatened or that our needs are not being met. Other people’s actions may leave us feeling belittled, ignored or inferior in some way.
While anger can be an appropriate response, when the costs of anger outweigh any benefits, then it becomes a problem. An angry reaction that becomes aggressive and is out of proportion to the situation can have negative effects on us and the people around us— sometimes with devastating consequences.
The key here is to understand that it’s not actually the event or the other person that causes us to become angry, it’s our perception of the situation that results in us either being able to let it go or react. Our thoughts then influence how our body responds.
Under threat, the body is flooded with hormones that create a fight or flight response, leading to feeling hot, tense, knots in the stomach, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, shouting, tightening of muscles, clenching fists and trembling.
In order to manage our anger, we need to understand it. Identify what are your triggers. Are there certain people, situations or places where you are more likely to feel angry? What happens in your body? What thoughts go through your mind about the situation? The effects on the brain due to drugs, alcohol, nicotine and other lifestyle factors can make anger more likely, so consider whether these are contributing to your anger.
When you become so angry that you react or can’t think clearly because the emotional part of your brain (known as the limbic system) has taken control, then some simple strategies can be activated in the moment.
Try taking time out—walk away, count to 10 before you speak, run up and down some stairs, take some deep breaths, and use self-talk such as, “I am making myself angry” or “I don’t have to respond to this”. This gives your brain a chance to switch from the emotional brain to the thinking brain so you can respond more appropriately.
Ask yourself if your anger is helping or harming you and other relationships. And try to get some perspective—is this worth getting angry about and can you overlook this? Try not to dwell on the hurt, as this can cause you to relive the experience for longer than warranted.
Anger doesn’t have to control your life, and that begins when you realise you have control of it.
*Lyn Beasy is a psychologist at the Wellbeing Clinic in Caringbah, Sydney.