We all experience and express anger from time to time. Anger is a basic human emotion that signals a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility and can range from mild irritation to extreme rage. For many people, anger results from pent up frustrations, feeling wronged in some way, losing or not having control in situations that matter to us, or witnessing injustice, especially when it affects people we know or care about.
Even though anger is normal, there’s cause for concern when we’re feeling angry a lot and/or when our expression of anger is interfering with our work, relationships, or peace of mind. It takes a lot of energy to be angry and when it happens a lot, it can compromise our ability to function healthfully or to be present with people we care about. Excessive anger can also be a symptom of a larger mental health challenge, so if efforts to manage it aren’t working, it’s a good idea to consult a mental health specialist. When it’s not a symptom of something else, it’s important to work on not letting the anger take over. While we can’t always control when and how feelings of anger are triggered, we can control how we react to those feelings.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of uncontrolled anger, text “START” to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
What causes anger?
Anger can have a lot of different causes and it can be expressed in a variety of ways. It’s not always easy to find the underlying source of anger since what our mind tells us is wrong and what we’re actually responding to psychologically may not be the same thing. Examples include:
- A perceived threat to our physical or emotional well-being (such as self-esteem or reputation)
- A threat to our resources (such as finances, time, possessions, or people we care about)
- A level of uncertainty, fear, disappointment, rejection, or shame can trigger anger as a secondary emotion to those feelings
- Internal sources, like recalling a trauma or something that happened in the past
What are the types of anger?
Anger can be classified as constructive or destructive. It originates from the “fight” component of our “fight, flight or freeze” instinct. While the response can often be physical retaliation, it can also be calling someone out, or seeking to change a system or process to fix the wrong or prevent future wrongs.
Put simply, constructive anger happens when we can manage our emotions and channel our anger into actions that improve the situation, or prevent the event or actions that caused the anger from happening again. Constructive anger can mean having a courageous conversation with someone, or could be a response to a bigger issue and involve taking action to make systemic change. Constructive anger almost always involves pausing, calming down, processing, and coming up with a plan.
Destructive anger is usually spontaneous and expressed outwardly, like lashing out at others or storming out of a room. This type of anger expression negatively impacts our physical health by raising our blood pressure and releasing stress hormones. These destructive reactions can impact our work and relationships and also trigger defensiveness or anger in others, potentially leading to a confrontation or violence.
The Impact of Anger
Beyond damaging relationships and interfering with work or school, the stress hormone associated with anger can also cause negative changes to our brains and actually weaken our immune systems. In other words, we can make ourselves sick by getting angry! What’s more, patterns of aggressive anger can increase our likelihood of social isolation and even shave years off of our lives.
How people experience and feel anger is different for everyone. Some people anger easily, while it can take a lot to trigger anger in others. Some people are aware of their anger, while others fail to recognize it. Anger can also be a symptom of mental health conditions like depression. It’s a warning sign that’s often overlooked because people don’t associate anger with feeling depressed. If you might be struggling with anger or depression, there’s help.
Text “START” to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
It’s important to recognize some of the common warning signs that you or someone you know may have an anger management issue. Here are some things to look out for:
- Struggling to compromise or come to an agreement without getting angry
- Problems expressing emotions in a calm and healthy way
- Ignoring people or refusing to speak to them
- Shouting, swearing, or becoming physically violent and threatening
- Putting yourself down or punishing yourself
- Increased substance use
- Frequent regrets and feelings of guilt around your reactions to situations or how you spoke to other people
The good news is that there are effective strategies for managing anger. JED has resources to help, and you can always seek out a mental health professional to help you find coping strategies and create an anger management plan.