What is anger?
Anger is a common, normal, healthy emotion felt by most people. It can range from mild irritation or annoyance to full-blown rage or physical violence. Anger, like other emotions, has physiological effects in the body. When you get angry, the sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, which can cause a your heart to pound, raise your blood-pressure, and make your muscles contract – all of which prepare the body for fight, flight or freeze responses.
What causes anger?
Although most people think that anger is caused by external factors (i.e., bad drivers or politics), another way to look at anger is as a response to our own interpretations of stimuli, events or even memories. No two people react the same way to the same event or person. Angry feelings are always preceded by angry thoughts.
Anger is often caused by hunger, lack of sleep and physical and mental exhaustion. It could also be a symptom of some other underlying issue such as a mood or anxiety disorder. Even medical conditions like hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can precipitate angry outbursts.
Anger and its impact on relationships
How we deal with our anger has a huge impact on the quality of our relationships. Angry people tend to criticize everyone and everything. They tend to make cynical comments and put other people down. It is not much fun to be around an angry person for very long. Anger can also escalate intoviolence in relationships.
What do I do with my anger?
How you handle your angry feelings can make a huge difference on the quality of relationships. All of us have learned to either suppress or expressanger. Both suppression and inappropriate expression of anger can cause problems in our lives.
We don’t know for sure from where emotions come, but we do know that they come and go. When you truly understand the nature of our feelings, you can learn to take a step back and take appropriate action, rather than react impulsively to our thoughts and emotions. You can never get rid of all the people and situations that cause you anger, but you can learn to respond differently to thoughts and reactions.
Can you suggest some healthy ways to deal with anger?
The best way to deal with angry feelings is to to address the physiological and the mental (cognitive) aspects of anger through:
- Simple, deep breathing exercises using the diaphragmatic (abdominal) muscles, which can calm the effects of the sympathetic nervous system described above
- Physical activity and yoga, which can also help regulate the physiological effects.
- Learning to meditate (to relax your body and mind). This helps you to control your reactions to thoughts and feelings.
- Learning to communicate in a simple, direct manner. Ask for what you need with the full understanding that you may not always get what you ask for, and people have the right to say no.
- Cognitive restructuring exercises can help with the internal assumptions that lead to anger and rage. Writing down your angry thoughts and investigating them one by one is a very effective way to calm yourself.
When should I seek professional help?
If you or someone close to you believe that your anger is out of control to the point where it affects your day-to-day life and relationships, you might want to explore the option of seeking professional help.
For more information about anger management or an evaluation, call or email the Hall Health Mental Health Clinic.
What are some additional online resources for learning about anger and anger management?
- Anger management: Tips to control your temper (Mayo Clinic)
- Controlling Anger — Before It Controls You (APA)
- Anger management: Recognize and understand unhealthy behaviors (Mayo Clinic)
Authored by: Hall Health Center Mental Health Clinic staff
Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Mental Health Clinic staff, January 2014