Dr. Katie Bowman
Executive Director, New London Counseling Center
The Case for Anger
Now, with our lives feeling totally out of control and our normal routines disrupted, it can be easy to feel more stressed, overwhelmed, and angry.
Often, our impulse is to shy away from these perceived negative emotions, but anger can actually be a healthy and productive part of the human experience. It has deep roots in helping us survive and respond to threats. For example, a woman who has her wallet stolen doesn’t just calmly say, “Well, I will just get a new wallet and make more money.” No, she is angry--and justifiably so.
Anger can motivate us to do something like call the police, talk with a co-worker who is making poor choices, redirect our children when they are fighting, or put up boundaries with a friend who is mistreating us.
So why do we shy away from anger? Because, despite its value, anger can also get out of control and cause real problems at home, work, and in relationships. So in handling anger we need to examine first what your anger looks like (i.e. minor irritation or full-blown rage) and also recognize what sets it off in the first place.
What Anger Looks Like
Not all anger looks the same--or, in fact, feels the same. Some people are naturally more prone to get angry more quickly or feel the emotion more intensely. Some folks wear their hearts on their sleeve and express every minor irritation and aggravation for the whole world to see. This may include loud yelling, shaking fists, stomping feet, throwing things, etc. Meanwhile, others with that same level of anger may never have a loud outburst. Instead, their anger may be expressed through being chronically grumpy, irritable, withdrawn, or sulky.
The bottom line is no matter how anger manifests, failing to acknowledge or manage it can cause serious problems in every aspect of life, including your physical health.So, if your anger is causing problems at home, work, school, daily life, or in your relationships, it needs to be addressed.
How to Manage Anger
Improve communication. Sometimes anger is a result of not feeling understood or respected by others OR a result of not being able to communicate oneself properly. So, instead of “unleashing your fury” when you feel unheard or unseen, try clearly communicating what your needs are and how to get them met. But don’t forget--anger often makes us illogical and irrational, so try to have those important conversations during a time when you are calm.
Change the way you think. Anger often leads to a distortion of reality. In other words, we exaggerate, dramatize, or overly emphasize things that make the situation worse. Try replacing those irrational thoughts with more logical ones. For instance, if you find yourself flipping out at the slow-moving school bus in front of you, try reminding yourself that if your kids were on that bus then you would want the driver to be cautious and safe too. Remind yourself the world is not out to get you; this is just a rough patch. Also, avoid using absolutes like “always” and “never.” For instance, “my boss always criticizes the work I do” could be turned into “my boss values perfection and is teaching me good lessons, which will help me in the future.”
Relaxation techniques. Tools like deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and yoga can really help to calm down the physical excitement that is caused during bouts of anger and can help you to relieve muscle tension and soreness that might happen as a result.
These tips can help you to start dealing with anger. You may also want to try reading self-help books or talking to a counselor if your anger is causing difficulties in any area of life. If you are in a situation where your anger, or someone else’s anger, is causing an unsafe situation, call 911.
Information included in this article as well as additional info can be obtained at apa.org