American Psychological Association (APA) defines anger as an emotion which includes antagonism towards something or someone that has caused you harm. It causes emotional pain as well as physiological arousal. The physiological arousal shows up as increased heart rate, heightened blood pressure, and a surge of hormones. It can be positive or negative.
Anger, in a positive sense, would help an individual in expressing negative emotions and working towards solutions that help the situation. Negative anger would be destructive to self or others and can cause problems related to physical or mental health. It could also be detrimental to an individual’s work life and personal relationships. Anger management becomes essential in this case.
Anger management, as the name suggests, is a process to reduce anger or manage it in more productively. It includes techniques that help in reducing the physiological arousal and emotional pain that accompanies anger. None of these techniques forces an individual to shut down anger, they are more about supporting the productive expression of anger.
What Is The Anger Cycle?
The anger cycle has 5 phases, namely, trigger, escalation, crisis, recovery and depression.
- Trigger: This is the first phase of the anger cycle. This phase occurs when we receive any threatening information or start an argument. Our facial expressions change and our physiological system gets ready to take action.
- Escalation: This is the second phase of the anger cycle. This phase includes physiological changes, such as surging hormones, tensed muscles, increased pitch of voice and the increased heart rate.
- Crisis: This is the third phase of the anger cycle. This phase includes a fight-or-flight response. The body goes into survival mode here. The body is prepared to take action.
- Recovery: Action can take place during the previous phase. This is the fourth phase and includes recovery from previous actions, as the body may be drained and exhausted. The reasoning starts to return as the survival response goes off.
- Depression: This is the last phase of the anger cycle. The body relaxes and we can finally notice the consequences of our actions. Guilt or sadness could be possible emotions here.
Techniques Used To Manage Anger
1. Cognitive Reframing:
This includes altering the way an individual thinks. Anger leads people to follow destructive paths such as yelling, throwing things, abusing, etc. A healthy, productive way to manage this anger would be to replace irrational actions with rational thoughts. These rational thoughts are likely to be followed by rational behaviour.
For example, when someone accidentally pushes you while walking, you could take a deep breath and assume that the person who pushed you unintentionally must be in a rush to reach somewhere. Creating a ruckus because of your anger will not help in this situation and only make you and the other person late for your tasks. Restructuring the way you think can take some practice and time, be patient with yourself and know that anger is a valid feeling but expressing it destructively only causes harm.
2. Venting out:
Talking about the negative feelings that anger produces can be helpful. You can express how you feel about a certain person, thing or situation with a trusted friend or family member. You may discuss solutions with them, ask for suggestions or just seek comfort and be heard.
The goal of venting should be clear, it should help in the reduction of anger, not increase it. It should help you feel lighter and lead to solutions.
3. Relaxation Techniques:
Certain relaxation tools such as mindfulness, meditation and imagery can help in reducing stress and anger-related emotional feelings and physiological reactions. These techniques can be learnt through YouTube videos or a mindfulness practitioner.
Some simple relaxation strategies include deep breathing and imagining a beautiful scene which could be real or completely created through imagination. Yoga is also known to calm the nerves and help people relax.
It can be a good way to let out or express anger. Exercising releases endorphins, the famous happy hormones. These happy hormones could help in reducing the stress that anger produces. Over the years, many studies have documented the results of different forms of exercise on reduction in anger. Aerobics was found to be a healthy alternative to managing anger. Running or jogging regularly had healthy effects on anger management.
It can help deflect the negative feelings of anger.
For example, watching a funny show or movie after a stressful, anger-inducing day can help relax the body and mind. Some people use laughter therapy to diffuse stress. They tend to laugh loudly, wholeheartedly every day, to curb the effects of stress or anger.
An important thing to keep in mind is to not use humor in displaying passive aggression towards others. It is a tactic to help you deal with your feelings in a better way, use that to your benefit by engaging in humor through shows, movies, and funny friends.
6. Problem Solving:
Anger is a natural reaction to problems or difficult situations. One way to manage anger is to think of solutions that can ease the problem, if not finish it.
For example, John does not like his new boss. He criticizes John’s work, no matter how hard he tries. This naturally induces anger. Here, John can manage this anger by noticing the criticism and working towards some changes. Along with that, he can try believing in his hard work and ask for support and validation from his close ones.
He could also find humor in the boss’s approach to diffuse his internal stress. Lastly, he could find a support system at work to help him get through tough days.
7. It is imperative to communicate better to avoid anger. When you listen to understand, and not just respond, you can interpret the other side’s intentions and can control your anger and come to an effective solution.
8. Short tempers are fairly common. Humans need to learn to tolerate some amount of ambiguity to control their anger. Things don’t always go according to our plans. We need to be flexible and learn to deal with little inconveniences, and regulate our anger.
9. Silly, small things happen in our daily life. For example, being stuck in traffic, not being able to find another sock pair and the like. We naturally feel annoyed when these things happen. It is essential to calm down in these situations and focus on problem-solving, rather than being angry, which will probably make you even more exhausted.
How To Handle Negative Criticism And False Blaming Without Being Angry?
Humans are prone to receive negative criticism or be blamed for something they did not do, at least once in their life. These situations naturally induce feelings of anger.
For example, Heeya did her homework on time but forgot to bring it to class. Her teacher blamed her for not doing it and she received negative criticism because of it. Here, Heeya remembered to see the situation from her teacher’s point of view. She saw how her teacher could have misread the situation because of her intent to get work done by her students, so that they perform better in exams, and also because she might need to check the work of the students faster, as she had people above her in authority.
Heeya understood the other perspective and the reason behind the blame and tried to diffuse the situation by being patient and explaining to the teacher about her work after the teacher was done talking. This helped the situation as the teacher then calmed down and asked her to bring the work the next day.
Consequences Of Getting Angry
- Anger leads to physical problems, such as headaches, abdominal pain and issues in digestion as well. High blood pressure and heart attacks are also probably because of anger.
- Pent-up anger could cause anxiety and depression. Holding onto angry feelings does no good, it only exacerbates mental health issues.
- Relationships can suffer because of angry outbursts and pent-up anger.
- Self-esteem also reduces because of anger and the outbursts of anger. Shame and guilt take the place of confidence, leading to lower self-esteem.
- Work is also affected by anger. If an employee has an angry outburst at his workplace, it increases his chances to get fired or demoted. It also ruins other opportunities at work.
The Case of Janet
Janet was a working mother. She had a 6-year-old at home and a time-consuming job. She often got annoyed after coming home, because of her tiring schedule. Because of her tiredness, she lashed out at her child and ignored her husband. After noticing this pattern for a few days, her husband advised her to seek some help as it was impacting their family.
Janet visited a therapist soon after. She then started following a new routine as suggested by her therapist. She went to work earlier and came home by early evening. Then, she engaged in meditation followed by taking a relaxing bath. After this relaxation, her lashing out reduced and she was more inclined to spend time with her family.
On busier days, she used small things to practice self-care such as eating her favorite meal once in the day or using imagery for 10-15 minutes. Her relationship with her child and husband continued to improve as she consistently practiced self-care and spent some time with herself after a stressful work day.
Study By: Prabhu and colleagues
Aim: To study the relationship between anger management and its effects on the mental health of medical students.
- A survey was conducted among 157 undergraduate medical students to determine how long and how frequently they experience feelings of anger and its consequences.
- Anger-related scales and health questionnaires were also administered to the participants.
- It was found that 70% of students experience anger occasionally.
- 16.5% of students reported expressing their anger through destructive behaviors such as substance abuse and poor eating habits.
- Results suggested that medical students with a higher score for their tendency towards getting angry have much worse mental health compared to the ones with lower anger tendencies.
This study brings light to the issues related to anger. The study suggests that more emphasis needs to be placed on students for managing their anger, especially in a stressful environment (college) away from home.
Additional Tips To Manage Anger
- Use ‘I’ statements to avoid blaming others and take responsibility for your own emotions. Using an I statement would also help in communicating better and a solution could be reached amicably.
- Grudges or pent-up anger only lead to pain and threaten relationships. Losing that grudge would lead to forgiveness, peace and better relationships. A better frame of mind can also be achieved by letting go of grudges.
- Timing is an important concept. It can influence on anger and arguments. For example, Jeff is usually in a hurry in the morning as he has to get to work on time. When Jane approaches him with a longer discussion topic during this time, he is more likely to get angry and annoyed. If she approaches him during the evening, he is much more likely to respond with care and understanding.
- One more tactic to keep yourself calm is avoiding stimuli that induce anger. For example, if talking about a certain topic always leads to an argument with your friend, it would be okay to let that topic go. Avoidance is helpful sometimes.
- Finding alternatives to problems can also help in dealing with anger. If one solution does not work, we can work on finding other options, instead of being angry and getting exhausted by the anger.
Factors That Trigger Anger
- Stress is one of the most common triggers of anger. If an individual is stressed about work or relationships and an anger-inducing situation occurs at the same time, he/she is likely to have an outburst.
- Injustice or unfairness at work or home can also trigger anger.
- Any kind of abuse could lead to anger.
- Apart from these factors, genetics and parenting can also influence how anger shows up in a person.
How To Express Anger?
Anger can be expressed in a positive, constructive way instead of destructive, harmful ways.
- Henry is feeling angry about doing more of the housework than his roommate. He can express this anger by using statements such as, ‘My blood pressure increase when you leave the room without helping with the chores’ instead of ‘You never do any housework.’
- Another example could be Jacob being angry about his wife not giving him enough time. He could express his feelings by using statements such as, ‘I feel upset that we don’t spend enough time together’ instead of ‘You never give me time.’
- Another instance would be Katy feeling angry about her team member not working enough on their project. She could express her anger by saying, ‘I feel alone in this project and want you to give this more time and effort.’ instead of ‘You never do the work.’
- Another instance would be Heena feeling angry about her maid taking more leaves than usual. She could express her anger by stating statements such as, ‘I feel stressed when you take many leaves as I have to reschedule a lot of things, Can we come up with a solution for this?’ instead of ‘You always take leaves!’
- Another instance would be Kerry feeling angry about her friend being late. She could express her anger by stating statements such as, ‘I felt restless when I had to wait for you and would want you to be on time’ instead of ‘You are always late!’
The Case of Olivia
Olivia has been in an abusive relationship for 2 years now. Her partner has an anger issue, and often projects his anger onto Olivia. He has work stress and repressed family trauma, which indicates a lot of pent-up anger. He deals with it negatively, as he is hurting his partner’s mental health by projecting his anger towards her and not treating her the way she deserves.
He could have learnt how to manage anger in a better way by seeking therapy or engaging in relaxation techniques or talking about it clearly with his close ones. But, instead, he turned into a toxic partner, because of his anger.
- Anger-Management Therapy is a therapeutic approach that focuses on managing anger in individuals. They are trained to express assertively, not aggressively. Their pent-up anger is discussed and freed so that their present life could be more satisfactory.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can also be used to deal with anger. Thinking and behaviour patterns are questioned, and healthy habits are taught to express anger calmly and rationally. If the anger is caused due to hormonal imbalance or a medical reason, further assessment is conducted and medicines may be prescribed.
- Assertiveness Training is also used to manage anger. It includes using ‘I-statements’ to reinstate responsibility for one’s feelings and emotions instead of putting it on someone else. This training focuses on helping people form assertive responses instead of aggression or suppression of anger.
Anger Management At School
- Teaching anger management is imperative for school students, as they are in a growing stage and could be helped through proper techniques. Reinforcements, and rehearsal are some of the behavioural techniques that can be used with students, to teach them to manage anger. Reinforcements are techniques that increase the probability of desired behaviours. For example, giving rewards or appreciating someone for a desirable behaviour would make them want to do it again.
- Prior knowledge of handling and coping with a problematic scenario is provided using classroom sessions as a lesson or advice.
- Modelling is another technique wherein the parent or teacher can practice desirable behaviours and the children or students can learn from it, by observing them.
- Teachers and parents are influential in the child’s early years. They should be appropriate role models for them, to look up to. If a child watches an authority figure deal with anger in a calm, rational way, he or she will learn to do the same. Teachers should be patient with children and express empathy, to help them learn. If there is an angry child in class, the teacher can dig deeper and be an appropriate mentor to them.