We will spend our entire lives learning how to balance, express, and identify our emotions properly. Anger is one of the more difficult emotions for those of us in the Western world. Hopefully, this article will help.
Many of us, especially in the church, have grown up to believe it is always sinful, wrong, or dangerous to be angry, but it can be healthy to feel angry. What we do with our anger can certainly be damaging but to feel angry in and of itself is normal.
What is anger?
This might seem like a strange question to ask, but this is an important definition to understand. Anger often gets misunderstood or incorrectly identified. Anger is considered one of the core human emotions along with joy, fear, disgust, surprise, and sadness. However, anger often comes alongside feelings of fear, disgust, and sadness. These other feelings might present themselves first and then anger could present as a secondary emotion.
The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines anger as “a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism.” This might develop from an encounter with another person, an experience, lack of a basic need, a sense of injustice, or many other experiences.
Anger is also a natural part of grief. This anger may come and go through the grieving process.
Typical methods for managing anger
Humans can respond to anger in many different ways. It activates our fight or flight response and triggers different hormones and chemicals in the brain. One person may respond to anger in an entirely different way than their spouse, friend, sibling, or child. The following are responses to anger that we might expect to see.
- Tight shoulders, back, jaw
- Clenched jaw or fist
- Grinding teeth
- Inability to stay still
- Increased need or desire to move
- Passive-aggressive behaviors
- Furrowing the eyebrows
- Raising voice
When should I be concerned about my anger issues?
Understanding and processing anger is so hard for most of us. So, when should we be concerned about our anger? The most basic answer is to trust your gut instinct. If you feel you’re having an inappropriate response to anger or are repressing anger, it’s good to seek outside help. In reality, the overwhelming majority of people could use help with managing their anger.
It has been said that depression is anger turned inwards. Many folks dealing with depression find that they have repressed anger as well (though, there are also clinical reasons for depression). It can be a big surprise for people to discover they have so much repressed anger, especially when they may have had no idea that they had any anger at all. Those who are struggling with depression should consult a counselor to see if anger issues underly some of their depression.
Repressed and uncontrolled anger has been linked to several health effects as well. Those with anger issues are more likely to have heart problems. Anxiety can also be linked to anger.
If you find yourself feeling angry all the time, or hardly ever feeling angry, these can both be signs of anger issues. You may also notice changes in your relationships, social circles, or family. Some folks even notice significant physical changes.
Anger issues might also be out of control if any of the following are common expressions of anger:
- Destroying property
- Uncontrolled screaming
- Grief without anger
- Addictive behaviors
- Sleep problems
- Increase in pain
- Manic episodes
- Excessive sexual activity
- A decrease in interest in hobbies, social activities, food, sex, or other interests
Make sure to get professional help if you’re concerned about your anger, or the anger or anyone around you. If you believe your safety is being compromised due to someone else’s anger issues, reach out to local police or a domestic violence center.
Tips for managing anger at home
First, stop and breathe. Your fight-or-flight response has been activated and this will help calm it down. Deep breathing of any kind is good. You may wish to take ten deep breaths, do some alternate nostril breathing, say a prayer, and breathe deeply or simply breathe until you’ve calmed down a bit.
Next, see if you can identify any other emotions that are present. Is anger your primary emotion? Or are you also feeling sad, hurt, lonely, fearful, bored, or something else? Anger often rises to the surface first but when we dig down a bit, we’ll see that the anger is manifesting and hiding out other emotions.
This is because anger is an emotion more focused on survival, so it crowds out the other feelings when our fight/flight kicks in. Often recognizing that we’re feeling something else in addition to anger can tamp down the anger in and of itself.
Then, acknowledge what you’re feeling. If you’re present with someone else, talk it over with them. If you’re alone, consider writing it down or talking out your thoughts on a voice recorder. This is a good time to take a little bit of alone space. Especially if your anger is stemming from a conflict! Each of you can take a break and come back together when the time is appropriate.
Other helpful practices to do during this stage, or any of the above, include-
- Exercise. This is a great way to calm the fight/flight response. It also gives you a chance to thin and clear your mind. Try running, yoga, weightlifting, or swimming.
- Time in nature. Nature has an incredible ability to soothe and calm us
- A long bath or shower.
- Try to find humor.
Last, work towards reconciliation, justice, healing, and action. If your anger is centered around a conflict, a time will come to work through that conflict with the other person (or persons). Remember that this may happen over days, weeks, months, or years.
Work through your anger as appropriate on your own or with a counselor. Don’t rush the process. Sometimes it is best to not have further contact with whoever hurt us. This can be painful but necessary. Give it time to decide the proper action and ways to heal.
If your anger is over some sort of social injustice, then consider what you can do to right the injustice. Engage in a social justice movement, work with a non-profit focused around that issue, educate those around you on the issue, or engage with it in another way. Doing something about injustice can help us reconcile our anger.
When you’re dealing with anger over something personal, such as a financial struggle, you may need to seek help. We can rightly feel angry when our finances cause difficulties with providing our basic needs for our families, or when dealing with a health issue that we didn’t expect to come into our lives.
These are all justifiable reasons to be angry. They may be a journey to reconcile and heal from. Action like education, counseling, support groups, and other opportunities can be helpful.
Hopefully, these tips will help you, or someone you love. Remember, it’s okay to be angry. We are here to help you understand, process, and work through your anger.
“Grief”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Rage”, Courtesy of Usman Yousaf, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “De-Stressing”, Courtesy of Elijah Hiett, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fly With Me”, Courtesy of Mohamed Nohassi, Unsplash.com, CC0 License