Anger is a physiological and psychological response to external pressures stresses and frustration. Anger can make us snappy, irritable or argumentative. We all get angry now and then, but for some people anger can become a problem, spiralling out of control and getting in the way of normal life.
When does anger become a problem?
- Occurs too often
- Becomes severe and intense
- Lasts for long periods
- Affects relationships and/or work
- Leads to violence or aggression
When anger is a “passive” emotion, it is characterized by silent sulking, passive-aggressive hostility and tension.
The use of drugs can make anger more likely, as can hormonal changes associated with PMS and the menopause.
Research suggests some individuals may be genetically predisposed to higher levels of anger.
When we get angry, our bodies undergo physical changes. The body’s muscles tense up and inside the brain, chemicals are released, causing an increase in energy that generally lasts up to several minutes. Simultaneously, heart rate increases, the blood pressure rises as does the rate of breathing. The face may flush as increased blood flow enters the limbs and extremities in preparation for physical action. In quick succession, additional brain neurotransmitters and the hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline are released which trigger a lasting state of arousal.
The emotional progression to rage is usually mitigated by the reason and logical response of the left prefrontal cortex which can switch off the emotions, thus serving to keep the situation under control.
Dealing with anger
In order to defuse your anger before it gets out of control, you’ll want to develop an anger plan listing out things you can do to calm yourself down. For example, part of your plan might be to take a ‘time-out’ when you start getting upset; to temporarily remove yourself from the situation that is provoking you so as to provide yourself with a space in which to calm down. Another way to defuse anger might be to move the conversation away from what is bothering you and towards a more neutral topic. There are lots of things you can do to defuse an angry situation once you start thinking about it.
Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings. There are books and courses that can teach you relaxation techniques, and once you learn the techniques, you can call upon them in any situation. If you are involved in a relationship where both partners are hot-tempered, it might be a good idea for both of you to learn these techniques.
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.
Nonstrenuous, slow yoga-like exercises can relax your muscles and make you feel much calmer.
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