Guest AuthorNarendra Ambwani

What is anger and how to manage it

By | Narendra Ambwani | Helping CEO/CXO Excel 

What is anger?

 Anger is a negative feeling state that is typically associated with hostile thoughts, physiological arousal

 Anger is a natural response to perceived threats. It causes your body to release adrenaline, your muscles to tighten, and your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Your senses might feel more acute and your face and hands flushed. However, anger becomes a problem only when you don’t manage it in a healthy way.

 Typically, we experience a primary emotion like fear, loss, or sadness first. Because these emotions create feelings of vulnerability and loss of control, they make us uncomfortable. One way of attempting to deal with these feelings is by subconsciously shifting into anger.

 Feeling anger is a natural part of life, but is not necessarily an emotion we are comfortable with or have been taught to manage skillfully. While anger is often seen as “bad” or “un-Christian,” it is as important to our health as a fever is. A fever is essential because it tells us that something is wrong and is also the body’s way of beginning to deal with the infection creating problems. Anger is the body’s way of signalling something is wrong and creating energy to help begin addressing the problem.

However, too many of us simply act upon our anger rather than seeing it as a symptom signalling a problem. Doing this is similar to taking an aspirin to deal with a fever while never looking for the underlying infection. When the aspirin wears off, the fever is back and often worse than it was at first because the infection has spread unaddressed.

The same is true with anger. When anger is avoided or simply acted upon, the underlying issue goes unaddressed, and the anger often reoccurs at inopportune times with increased intensity.

 Anger is a valuable emotion that alerts you to problems in your life so you can effectively solve them and build the sort of life you desire.

 Angry thoughts may be accompanied by muscle tension, headaches or an increased heart rate. In addition, the verbal and physical expressions of anger may serve as a warning to others about our displeasure. Aggression, in contrast, refers to intentional behaviour that aims to harm another person. Often, it reflects a desire for dominance and control.

 Anger can be an appropriate response to injustice. No doubt, anger played a useful part in social movements for equality for blacks, the elderly and women, among others. Anger may also lead to better outcomes in business negotiations as well as an increased motivation to right the wrongs we see in the world.

 Anger sometimes just feels good and righteous. We may feel angry when watching a movie or a play where a character suffers inappropriately. Then, when good triumphs over evil, anger is replaced with a feeling of satisfaction

 When we become angry, the autonomic nervous system is aroused. For example, anger precipitated by the discovery of a spouse’s secret affair will likely lead to arousal of the sympathetic nervous system and associated hormonal and neurochemical changes. These physiological reactions can lead to increases in cardiovascular responding, in respiration and perspiration, in blood flow to active muscles and in strength. As the anger persists, it will affect many of the body’s systems, such as the cardiovascular, immune, digestive and central nervous systems. This will lead to increased risks of hypertension and stroke, heart disease, gastric ulcers, and bowel diseases, as well as slower wound healing and a possible increased risk of some types of cancers.

  How to manage anger

Suspend your desire to act upon your anger. No matter how intense your experience of anger, acting upon this emotion without identifying why it is present may feel good for a moment or two, but often causes us to behave in ways we regret later and seldom helps to address the underlying issue fuelling the anger.

 1. Take a time out. Pause whatever it is you are doing and check to see if you can identify the primary emotion driving the anger. It is important to STOP and deliberately think this through as it is usually very difficult to identify anything other than anger initially.

 2. Check what’s underneath your anger. Ask yourself the question, “If anger was like the congealed fat on the top of the roast in my refrigerator and I could skim it off, what would be underneath?” This gives you a way to begin exploring the thoughts which are fuelling anger. The shift from the primary emotions of fear, sadness, or loss happens rapidly so it takes deliberate thought to identify what lies beneath the anger.

 3. Think about how you can address what’s underneath. Once you have identified the underlying primary emotion, ask yourself, “What would help me address this emotion effectively?” If I am angry with my spouse for sitting on the couch while I clean, the underlying emotion might be fear…fear the relationship is always going to be off-balance in this way…fear my partner does not value me and sees me as a servant…fear my need for down-time won’t be met. By identifying the fear, I can decide how to talk about this with my partner rather than simply blowing up about not having help cleaning.

4. Give yourself space to calm down. The emotion of anger releases chemicals within the body preparing you to flee, fight, or freeze so you won’t be hurt. It takes a bit for these chemicals to dissipate and you can’t think clearly until they do. By deliberately taking time to calm down, you give your brain time to move out of the instinctual “protective” mode and into problem solving mode.

 5. Work the problem. Anger tells you a problem exists. Taking time to work out a solution to the problem, eliminates the need for anger just like taking an antibiotic kills an ear infection and eliminates the need for the fever. It is easy to avoid working through issues but until the underlying issues are resolved, you will continue to find anger popping up to tell you there is a problem you need to address.

  6. Anger felt when dealing with strangers emerges from transient interactions. You may never see the clerk or driver or waiter again. If you ask yourself how important the annoying situation really is, you usually come up with, “not very important at all.” At most, you have suffered from paying a bit too much for the taxi ride or being delayed a few minutes by the clerk. Recognize that these are unpleasant events, not catastrophes, and work around them. Go to a different restaurant or go to the store at off hours to return a purchase.

Also, recognize the difference between events that you can change and those that are beyond you. When you take a cab ride, tell the driver about your preferred route. When you order that steak in the restaurant, ask for extra ketchup before the waiter leaves the table never to be seen again. You have less control over other events. Airplanes, for various reasons, are frequently late. There is little you can do. Accept the delay as an opportunity to read or relax, not disastrous or worthy of anger.

 7. Anger felt when dealing with family members or friends is different because of the ongoing emotional relationships. To address this kind of anger, the self-help strategies that are quickest and easiest to use are avoidance and escape, relaxation, cognitive restructuring, and assertive expression.

 8. Directly facing all problems may not be the best solution. Sometimes, avoiding an interaction that is likely to lead to anger is best. For example, allow a spouse to deal with an unfair store clerk or a disruptive child. Learn that you can occasionally lean on others to work out problems.

9. Relaxation is a great tool to deal with anger, since angry folks tense their muscles and develop headaches and stomach aches. Find a comfortable chair that will support the arms and legs, and a quiet time. Take deep breaths and focus on allowing the muscles to voluntarily relax. Become aware that muscular relaxation is learned through practice. Soft music often helps.

 10. Cognitive restructuring refers to learning how to appropriately analyse aversive situations. Anger experiences are often associated with cognitive distortions, such as misappraisals about the importance of the event or about the capacity to cope. Anger is a moral emotion and typically associated with justice-oriented demands in the form of “should.” In addition, angry adults make overgeneralizations about the meaning of behaviours shown by others and they limit their options with “either/or” thinking, such as “Either he’s my friend or he’s not. It’s just that simple!” Learn to see negative situations as bad, but also as opportunities to develop coping skills and learn new behaviours. Recognize that others do good and bad things. Get rid of those broad generalizations about people.

 11. To be assertive means expressing anger directly, in an appropriate tone and without demeaning the other person. If you have been offended or disrespected, it is OK to say, “When you said my work was subpar in front of the others, I felt angry. I’d like to talk to you about the situation so that we can improve our relationship.” It is quite another thing to say, “You acted like a real jerk today. How dare you talk like that in front of the others! You have plenty wrong with you also!”

At what point should a person seek professional help for anger?

Some degree of anger will be with us for all of our lives. So, this is the question to ask: “Is my anger working for me?” When anger is mild, infrequent, dissipates quickly and is expressed assertively (directly to the problem person, in a non-accusatory manner) and without aggression, then professional help is not needed. In such circumstances, anger may serve the role of simply highlighting your annoyance and it can lead to problem resolution. 

However, if your anger is moderate to intense, experienced frequently, endures to the point where you are holding a grudge and are planning to get even, and is expressed in aggressive verbal and physical actions, then there is cause for alarm. You are likely at risk for the negative relationship, health, and sometimes legal repercussions related to inappropriate anger expression.


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Republished with permission and originally published at Narendra Ambwani’s LinkedIn

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