What is anger that we so often speak and hear of?

Anger is a normal, basic human emotion, and essential for our very survival. Humans are born with a fighting instinct, which often kicks in when we experience anger. Anger helps us to express strong feelings, cope with situations, and protect our interests, if expressed appropriately. However, if expressed in an unhealthy manner, it can lead to interpersonal and health-related problems and can adversely affect the quality of life.

Anger swings into motion various psychological and physical responses. It is experienced at three levels- emotional (feelings), cognitive (thoughts), and physiological (physical) changes. At an emotional level, it is experienced as a strong feeling of displeasure, annoyance or hostility. At a cognitive level, anger can be a result of distorted thinking and can also further distort thinking.

Biologically, anger originates due to your prefrontal cortex which is responsible for judgement being overpowered by a part of your brain called the amygdale, leading to an impairment in judgement and ultimately angry outbursts. This complex process can often result in heightened energy levels, palpitations, increased rate of breathing, increased blood pressure, headaches and fatigue.

Aggression is the acting out of the anger with behaviour that can potentially cause harm to oneself or others. There is a popular notion that letting out anger will make one feel better. In fact, all it does is the opposite; it escalates rage and makes matters worse. The best way to deal with one’s anger is to express it in a positive and healthy manner.

When directed outwards, anger causes tangible destruction. But Anger directed at oneself is unhealthy too and often manifests as passive aggressive behaviour: giving someone the silent treatment, avoiding communication, becoming cynical and argumentative, resorting to playing the victim and several other defensive tactics. This unexpressed or ‘mal-expressed anger can cause further health problems.

According to several studies medical complications of anger which is not managed correctly, including suppressed anger, include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, road accidents, public violence and other health related issues such as headaches, eczema and insomnia.

Assertiveness training is an enormously useful strategy for anger management. One has to recognize the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Assertive people communicate clearly and rationally, their thought process is more streamlined and logical, they are better at socializing and have excellent communication skills. Aggressive individuals on the other hand may not be effective in conveying their ideas because they are easily provoked and may act in a hostile manner.

Easy Anger Management Tips

  • Become aware of your feelings and expressions; awareness is the first step towards anger management.
  • Avoid stress and focus on things that are going well.
  • Don’t stay hungry for too long, eat healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Exercise regularly yoga and meditation help tremendously
  • Take up a sport to utilize your energy and pent up anger
  • Take up a creative hobby to distract yourself and help focus on positive things
  • Engage in ‘feel good’ activities like social service and community service projects
  • Take small vacations to relax your mind and body
  • Make sure you rule out depression and other underlying problems as a cause of your anger. Seek professional help if required
  • Talk to people, your friends, family members and trusted figures of authority. Talk about your issues, accept them and deal with them with the support of your loved ones.
  • Make a continual effort to adopt a reasonable and emphatic thinking style; this helps one think prior to reacting to any situation.

Our goal should not be to never experience or suppress anger, because that is unhealthy and counter-productive, but to recognize the anger within us and express it appropriately by channelizing it in a positive direction.

Dr Shamsah Sonawalla
Consultant Psychiatrist
Founder of Trans Mag Well-Being Clinic