When we think about anger, we typically imagine frowning red faces and steam blowing out of ears, and yet anger is a completely normal emotion that everyone experiences at some point and in and of itself is not an intrinsically bad emotion. There are times when anger is unavoidable and even useful in the ways it can motivate someone to stand up for themselves or what they believe in. Anger is an inmate human emotion. We all experience anger. It is how we express our anger that makes it at times problematic. When anger is uncontrollable, inappropriate or suppressed, it becomes counterproductive. Anger in this sense can lead to negative feelings such as: bitterness, resentment, or hostility, for example. Poorly expressed anger is also associated with verbal and physical aggression (e.g., name calling, argument, ‘road rage’, bullying, assault, and more violent crimes). Suppressed anger has been linked with greater pain intensity, interference with daily function, and reduced pain tolerance. Furthermore, chronic anger is associated with significant mental health issues and negative physical health effects (Bhave & Saini, 2009).
As we previously stated, feeling angry at times is a normal part of life. We all can relate to occasions when we’ve felt frustrated or angry. Studies show that on average, people experience anger 10% of the time (Trampe et al., 2015), and one in six people experience problematic anger (Adler et al., 2020). That is a lot of time and energy spent on an emotion that, though not always, is often counter-productive to our well-being, our relationships, and potentially resulting in loss of employment or serious accidents and injury. When you find it difficult to control negative feelings when they arise, you run the risk of pushing away or hurting those close to you.
Anger management is not designed to repress anger but instead a journey where you become more aware of what is creating the feelings of anger. More often than not anger is masking deeper feelings around sadness, loss, confusion, shame, grief and hurt. Anger shields people from getting too close and prevents vulnerability. Learning more about the origins of your anger and tapping into the reason why you’re feeling angry will help you express the feelings in an appropriate way that lead to positive changes and deeper connections.
There are a couple of straightforward but effective techniques you can try to get a head start on your anger.
One method is to get moving. It sounds simple, and it is. Physical exercise is an effective way to rid yourself of tension, decrease stress, and can be a great outlet for anger as well. Whether it be going for a jog, riding a bike, going to the gym, or a physically active hobby, getting your body moving will leave you feeling more positive and relaxed throughout your day.
This is not a feasible option every time you experience a bout of anger though. So, what do you do in those moments when you’re at work, or with the children at home and you feel those negative emotions rising. In these situations, we can’t just get up and leave for 30 minutes to do something physical.
Another effective method to moderate anger is mindfulness practice and thankfully it can be done anytime and anywhere. Specifically, breathing and relaxation exercises can be useful in situations when you may be feeling anxiety, stress or anger.
Try the following exercise the next time you are feeling angry-
When negative emotions arise, it is important to acknowledge them, and to pay particular notice to any tension your body may be feeling. Begin by breathing in slowly and deeply. As you are doing this, starting from your head, breath in deeply then hold your breath while tensing all the muscles around your head. After 5 seconds, release your breath and relax the muscles around your head, paying particular attention the release of tension around that area. After a few more deep breaths, move down to your neck and chest, repeating the same method, holding in a deep breath while tensing all the muscles in your neck and chest, then releasing after 5 seconds. Continue doing this for your arms, hands, stomach, legs and feet. This process should only take you 2 to 3 minutes, and it can be done with your eyes open, sitting at the desk at work or on the couch at home.
In doing this exercise, you are bringing attention to the tension in your body and consciously releasing it, creating a sense of detachment from uncomfortable feelings. By establishing this detachment from the tension in your body, the mind treats it as though it is something separate from you and opens the doorway to letting that feeling go. Even more so than that, with practice this separation becomes more and more automatic, and your mind starts to recognise that these emotions are not a part of your identity, rather something that comes and goes that you have control over.
Don’t let anger take control of your life and rob you of joy. Help is available. If you want to experience life to its fullest, without overburdening feelings of anger and other problematic emotions for that matter, therapy can target adverse emotions, their origins and the resulting behaviours, to reinforce more positive and healthy expression of these emotions and ultimately foster rich and meaningful connections with those around you and cultivate an environment in which you can grow and thrive as an individual that is not dominated by their emotions.
Therapies for Anger
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness therapy, relaxation-skills training, psychodynamic therapy and family- or relationship-based therapy are the treatments most commonly applied for problematic anger.
As mentioned previously, mindfulness exercises can be especially helpful in grounding and bringing attention to the thoughts and behaviours that stem from anger. Having this awareness in turn aids in the control and diffusion of anger. While this is certainly an important skill to have, it is equally if not more important to address the underlying causes of the emotional reaction. Psychodynamic therapy does exactly that. Guided self-reflection is used in psychodynamic therapy to get to the roots of the anger – its origins and its triggers. Understanding the reason for your anger is essential to begin changing the thoughts and behaviours associated with it and in turn, preventing problematic anger from negatively affecting your happiness.
Additionally, the incorporation of family- or relationship-based therapy in the treatment of anger issues can be especially helpful in mending previous hurt or stress related to anger, for more effective communication between loved ones as to reduce pent-up anger or increase others awareness of potential triggers to anger.
In most psychology practice environments, and certainly the case here at Plenish Mind Health, your psychologist or counsellor will employ a wide range of techniques and strategies in order to provide the most comprehensive and personalised care possible. This not only ensures that the therapy is tailored to your needs, but it also means all areas that may be affected by anger issues are addressed – including healing damaged relationships.
Psychotherapies can be a transformative endeavour for anyone. If you are experiencing problematic anger or trouble regulating your emotions, don’t put it off – book an appointment with one of our experienced therapists now at Plenish Mind Health. Simply Click Here.
Bhave, S. Y., & Saini, S. (2009). Anger: Causes, expressions, and types. SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, https://doi.org/10.4135/9788132108214
Adler, A.B., LeardMann, C.A., Roenfeldt, K.A. et al. Magnitude of problematic anger and its predictors in the Millennium Cohort. BMC Public Health 20, 1168 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09206-2
Trampe, D., Quoidbach, J., & Taquet, M. (2015). Emotions in Everyday Life. PloS one, 10(12), e0145450. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0145450