What's behind your anger?
Do you curse and smoke other drivers? Or do you scream with anger at home or even at work? Anger is a perfectly normal emotion, but when it's destructive it can hurt others. In any case, most of us would benefit from trying to look beneath the anger to see what is really going on (since there is usually another emotion that we are trying to suppress).
I've been really impressed lately. A friend said something abusive and I got angry (not directly at her – which might be preferable – but instead scolded my husband). After that, another friend – a psychologist – pointed out that maybe I wasn't really angry at all, but I was actually hurt by what she said. It was so true. In some ways, the anger made me feel like the one in control, but the truth was, I was just trying to avoid feeling hurt and vulnerable. If I'd sat with my pain and disappointment, I might never have pressed the "angry" button, or at least stopped earlier (sorry, dear husband, for going on and on and on!).
Psychologists believe that even if anger seems like an immediate, jerky response to provocation, there is always another feeling underneath. It is this feeling that the anger tries to control or suppress. And in so many cases, it's often hurt or sad.
In other cases – just think of a street anger situation, for example – anger often hides the real emotion, which is fear (that is, that the other driver can actually cause an accident and harm you and your passengers). Often the emotion changes at such a speed that we do not even notice it. Unfortunately, the next step is that we often turn to substances or behaviors, so try to suppress our emotions – it could be a donut or a glass of wine, but research shows that doesn't work. Emotions don't just go away, so we can face them much better and feel them when they knock on our door. No emotion is a "bad" emotion – they are all legitimate.
A clever chemical
It's fascinating to learn that anger is even intended to calm us down. How it works: One of the hormones that the brain secretes during anger stimulation is norepinephrine, which we experience like a pain reliever. When faced with physical or psychological pain (or even the threat of such pain), the internal activation of the anger response results in the immediate release of a chemical that is specifically designed to numb them. Aren't our bodies just amazing? The only problem is that this numbness is temporary and very short-lived, but the destruction that causes our anger can be widespread and harmful to our relationships.
7 tips for dealing with anger
1. Go away: First and foremost, calm down by walking away. Taking just a few moments to gather your thoughts can make a huge difference in your behavior. In fact, walking by itself is one of the best ways to calm yourself down and deal with anger. Some entrepreneurs have cited walking as one of the best ways to calm everyone down during a heated debate at work and the best way to move things towards a solution (see more on exercise below).
2. Express yourself again: Try to express your frustration in an assertive but not confrontational way. Use the words "I" to clearly state your concerns and needs. For example, instead of saying, "You never do any housework," try saying, "I'm upset that you left the table without offering to help me." And instead of saying, "You are a terrible person," try saying, "I'm really hurt by your words." That one thing can make a radical difference in your relationships and your attitude towards yourself – try it and see. While it means being a little vulnerable, it's far more effective in many ways.
3. Get some practice: Exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce anger and stress. It is especially effective for "emergency" emotions, which are inherently intense (I urge you to run / walk briskly around the block and not feel less intense afterwards). Exercise gives you a chance to unleash your emotions and can help reduce stress by increasing the production of endorphins in your body, which are natural "feel good" neurotransmitters that promote wellbeing. For more information on how exercise can improve mood, see here.
4. Have ABCs: On the left side of a journal, write down your current thoughts on what happened. Then, on the opposite page, write another thought – a more rational, positive, and helpful one (for example, what a friend might say about the situation). Remove the "should" and the "must" and try using "It would be better if …" instead. Take your time and keep writing to get a new perspective.
5. Let go of grudges: If you allow anger and other negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you may be swallowed up in your own bitterness or feelings of injustice, which can lead to self-destructive behaviors such as binge eating or alcohol consumption. Instead, let it go and give them the benefit of the doubt.
6. Practice relaxation skills: Practice breathing exercises, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase such as "Take it easy" or "This too will pass." You can also listen to music, write in a journal, meditate, or do a few yoga poses – whatever it takes to encourage relaxation. For more information on how meditation can improve mood and weight, click here
7.Know when to seek help: Learning to control or deal with anger is sometimes a challenge for all of us. However, it's important to seek help with anger issues when your anger seems to get out of hand, causes you to do things you regret, or hurts those around you. Contact the Irish Counseling and Psychotherapy Association (iacp.ie) to find a therapist near you.