Everyone has been angry at one point or another in our life. Some manage it well, while others easily lose their temper.
Why do some cope better than others? To understand this better, we need to know what anger is exactly, how it actually manifests, as well as ways to keep it under control.
Dr Charles Spielberger, a psychologist specializing in the study of anger, says that anger is “an emotional state which varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.”
According to him, it’s accompanied by physiological and biological changes which include increase in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as the levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline which are also our energy hormone levels.
Dr Raymond Lloyd Richmond (Raymond), the author of Anger and Forgiveness on the other hand, has a more visual and tangible way of defining anger. According to him,
Charles says there are three ways people deal with their anger – expressing, suppressing, and calming.
When people express their anger, it can be either through an assertive manner or a violent way.
The second way people deal with it is by suppressing their anger and choosing to redirect their anger in a more constructive manner. While that may sound healthy at first, the danger for this group is that they might end up bottling all the anger, causing more damage physically, emotionally, and mentally to themselves.
Finally, the last approach to dealing with anger is to keep calm. This can be achieved by stopping yourself from reacting to the anger, by distracting yourself from the source. When you manage to stop or reduce the reaction, it will lower down your heart rate and blood pressure, which will make the anger easier to control.
Meanwhile, Raymond has another take on how people deal with anger. Some people direct their anger towards another source, which is not the cause of the anger. For example, a husband can channel his anger towards his family, even though the real source of his frustration stems from his workplace or his boss.
Anger can also be directed towards things. Raymond gives an example of a plumber breaking his tools out of frustration because it’s not working. This makes no sense – in hindsight, doing that will only worsen the situation.
However, from a psychological perspective, it makes perfect sense. The plumber wants to feel powerful, therefore he resorts to violence. Destroying something can make you feel like you’ve got a sense of control. We’ve all been there, taking out our temper on things around us, right?
Now that we understand anger better from two psychology experts, let’s find out practical ways people choose to manage their anger.
1. Manage your physical pain first which can aggravate anger
Kesha, a marketing executive, noticed a trend when it comes to dealing with an anger. If she’s feeling physically well, it’s much easier to walk away from a confrontation, and to stop herself from being excessively angry.
However, when she’s feeling groggy, having headaches, or if it’s just that time of the month, small things like long queues or people not saying thank you is enough to piss her off.
So what happens if she’s unwell and finds herself being angry at the same time? She would take a nap or medicine if she was sick. If she’s on her period, she alleviates her discomfort by having enough rest and sleeping well.
2. Avoid rumination and deal with the underlying cause of the anger
First of all, what does ‘rumination’ mean? According to the Cambridge dictionary, rumination is the act of focusing on something for a long time. When you focus on your anger, you magnify the anger, and ultimately, hurt yourself in the process.
As mentioned by Dr Raymond’s book, the anger in the mind becomes a poison that harms you as much as it hurts anyone else. Did you also know there’s a Korean syndrome called hwa byung, which is attributed to the suppression of anger? The symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, panic, fear of impending death, indigestions, labored breathing, general aches and pains.
This is what Fifa noticed in herself, after a period of profound self-reflection. She realised she had an unhealthy pattern of ruminating on her anger, and developing a bad temper.
At first, she was in denial. She thought she had every right to be angry. Later however, she realised she was angry because she wasn’t very happy with her own life. Her anger was helping her deal with her underlying unhappiness.
She’s now on a journey to improve her life, and she makes a conscious effort to not be angry at trivial matters anymore.
3. Be open to talk about your anger issues with someone else
After receiving poor customer service at a restaurant, Mohamed lost his temper and complained about the waiting staff to his girlfriend. To his surprise, instead of sympathising with him, his girlfriend reprimanded him instead. That made him angrier.
Mohamed’s girlfriend texted him the next day, wanting to discuss his anger issues. They had a two-hour heated discussion about his temper.
However, at the end of their argument, Mohamed realised that he may have issues controlling his anger. His girlfriend pointed out that he gets irrationally angry with rude people, such as dangerous drivers or unhelpful waiters.
Mohamed acknowledged it’s a problem and has since managed these anger issues by switching his mind off and conserving energy while feeling angry.
4. Walk away from the anger
Dr Raymond explained that anger causes a surge of adrenaline, which encourages one to react physically to the perceived danger. He advised that if you’re prone to violence, walk away from provocation, especially if your emotions are building up uncontrollably in you.
During these moments, also practise taking deep breaths. The benefits of this practice is that it helps calm you down, which encourages physiological changes in the body. Your body stops producing adrenaline, which stops you from acting violently or impulsively.
5. Do something fun to distract yourself from an anger episode
Latif has a quirky way of tuning out anger. He believes anger is a natural emotion, so rather than fight it, he chooses to distract himself instead.
How does he do it? Well, he does anything to get his mind off the anger. For example, if he’s at work, he’ll grab a cup of coffee, which relaxes him. If it’s something which follows him back home, he’ll play a sport like futsal, which works off the excess adrenaline and energy.
This trick doesn’t always work, but most of the time, it diffuses his anger and gives him more time to rethink the whole situation.
Even though it’s hard to deal with, remember, anger is part and parcel of being alive. It’ll always be there, so we must find ways of dealing with it.
How do you manage your anger? Do you have your own ways of handling anger? How has it worked out so far for you?