Anger Is Perfectly Normal
Anger has been a mixed blessing for humankind from the beginning; it has been (and still is, at times) a useful reaction to perceived threats and hostile incursions. "Righteous anger" is a real thing and can help us stand up for our rights and the rights of others. But when anger segues into aggression, it loses its potency. The original source of anger is often shoved aside, and the anger itself is redirected to secondary targets. For example, your anger with your boss for overlooking you for promotion may be justified, but it does no good to take out your frustration on your co-workers.
The Physicality of Anger and Related Health Issues
When you see a threat, even without consciously realizing it, your brain quickly triggers a rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones. Your breathing gets more rapid, as does your heartbeat. Blood pressure rises. The brain takes you from fear or pain to the protective mode of aggressive anger in just a moment.
People under a lot of stress may become very angry at what seem to be minor provocations. The stress could be chronic or could be of recent origin—anything from childhood family dynamics to a current work situation or even national politics. It's a vicious circle: Stress leads to anger, and anger (especially repressed anger) leads to stress. Prolonged nervous strain can result in health issues such as headache, high blood pressure, insomnia, weakened immune system, even strokes.
Who's in Charge Here?
Aggressive anger is the result of a person confronting a situation over which she does not (or believes she does not) have any control. Her reaction stems from feeling helpless in the face of perceived threats and/or dangers. And since she's not in control, her anger gets out of control, then literally takes control of her. She gets worked up, becomes more combative, may even get verbally and physically abusive.
To deal with anger in a constructive fashion, acknowledge it, examine yourself to find its source, and then seek appropriate ways to channel it in a more positive direction. Anger can overtake your better judgment, especially when you feel vulnerable and not in control of your environment—whether this is your office, your home, your country, your planet or your own individual set of values.
Take a step back and ask yourself some hard questions about how you're currently experiencing anger. What sorts of circumstances trigger your temper? Where does that trigger come from? Is your anger justified? What do you do when you're angry? How does your anger affect other people? Could there be an underlying cause, something that may have been seething under the surface for months or years? Suppressed anger has been linked to depression for those who have spent years brooding over past threats or slights. Sometimes the proximate cause is just the first layer of emotions that you suppressed long ago.
A Few Lines About Ranting Online
Some people see social media as a venue for venting anger. The reasoning is that by shouting in ALL CAPS and using a lot of exclamation marks, you will express the anger and therefore get it out of your system. Tweet your troubles away, so they say. If it were only that easy. Research has shown that, in fact, people who spend a lot of time ranting online become increasingly more angry, not less. Even those who merely read a steady diet of hostile rants become dispirited, not elevated. The wrench in the works is that ranters can become temporarily uplifted when their online friends (including fellow ranters) "like" their posts or comment favorably on them. So the original ranter gets some support but not an impetus to change. In any case, the uplifting effect doesn't last long before the ranter is back feeling even more stressed-out and ready to rant again.
Anger is natural and normal. But when it turns into enraged confusion, you need to take a deep breath and focus on calming down. Count to 10, take a walk, change the subject, use relaxation techniques—anything that works to slow down your reaction and allows you to think straight. You can even reverse physical signs such as rapid breathing and heightened blood pressure by methodically forcing yourself to breathe slower and to relax your muscles.
The primary motivation for overcoming anger isn't to get rid of it or be in denial about it. The goal should be to face the actual cause of your anger and resolve it. If the original sore spot can't be removed, you can at least resolve the battling emotions within yourself. You can use your anger as a motivating force for action too. If you're enraged by injustices large or small, work to combat them in ways that are practical, even though they might be in a smaller scale than you would prefer. And remember—it's so much easier to accomplish good things when you let reason, not anger, guide you.
- American Psychological Association: Controlling anger before it controls you
- The Guardian: Screw you! The psychology of anger and aggression
- Medical News Today: How can I control my anger?
- Health:This Is the Best Way to Handle Your Anger
- PBS News Hour: Why ranting online doesn’t help manage anger
- Psyblog: The Upside of Anger: 6 Psychological Benefits of Getting Mad
Judith Tingley is a writer, editor and multi-media artist based in Louisville, Kentucky. She studied English literature at the University of Chicago and has continued her education via classes in editing, as well as through writing workshops. She has also conducted seminars on entrepreneurship. The many articles she’s written for USA Today and Working Mother reflect a broad range of interests, including travel, culture and interpersonal relationships. Visit her website at heyjudetheobscure.com