Anger management: taming a challenging emotion
This post focuses on anger management.
Anger is an important emotion, especially for women. Anger helps you find your voice, empowers you to take action and set limits and boundaries with people who are difficult. Rather than making you “ugly” (you may have heard this), anger can free you up to feel your power and strength, both emotional and physical.
However, being in touch with, and expressing your anger means understanding how to manage this difficult emotion. Without the balance of management, anger can have some negative effects. In the article Anger Problems: Effects of poorly managed anger Elizabeth Scott describes some of the physical problems that can arise from anger gone awry. She cites research that shows unmanaged anger in women can lead to depression whereas excess of anger in men can lead to physical health problems.
For everyone, there is an association between slower healing from wounds and an increase in cortisol (a human stress hormone) when excess anger is present. Another study showed that men with hostility had more breathing problems and didn’t age as well as men who managed their anger.
In a really terrific article How Anger Works, Molly Edmonds describes the way anger can come into the body causing teeth grinding, fist clenching, sweating, muscle tension, etc. She compares anger response to fight or flight, with the same rise in adrenaline and noradrenaline in the blood. All this response originates in the brain, where the amygdala, the emotional brain, gets triggered into action. Your brain prompts you to do something, blood flow is increased to the frontal lobe where the brain tries to control your reaction through logic. This reaction, interestingly, lasts about 10 seconds, which prompts the advice to count to ten when you are angry before you act on the anger. Constant reaction to triggers can cause damage in that people who are angry a lot to have trouble calming down. This can actually lead to heart problems, such as heart attacks and coronary artery disease.
So, the key with anger, as with so many things, is balance. Having safe and positive ways to express your anger is very important. And on the other hand, having safe and positive ways to manage your anger is also important.
In thinking about what to do with too much anger, it is important to be able to express yourself and get support. Ideally, it helps to talk directly to the person who made you mad, but sometimes it is really helpful to have an intermediary such as a friend, family member, or therapist, to help you figure out how to say what you want to say without the aggression. If you are chronically angry, anger management groups can help a lot. Group support is very healing. Even though many of these groups are court ordered, they are also useful for anyone, and nowadays, there are other options out there including mindfulness modalities and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) that uses meditation and spiritual philosophy in addition to cognitive behavioral precepts.
Writing your anger out is very healing, along with reading it to someone else. This can provide a way for you to hear your emotion from a slightly different point of view. Certain forms of writing such as poetry, can reach into the unconscious and bring up ideas, thoughts, and insights you didn’t know were there.
One thing to be aware of. Festering with your anger is not a good idea. What you are looking for is transformation, by learning how to express and understand yourself from a different point of view or through working out a problem with another human. When this is not possible, other forms of communication can still work.
Many people find physical movement and body connection techniques such as yoga to be very powerful tools in dealing with too much anger. Yoga is grounding and relaxing, two really good things for your brain. There is usually balance in yoga, with strenuous poses paired with relaxation at the end of the practice. If you are especially depleted, restorative yoga is very healing. If you are traumatized, you may want to work your way up to something like kick boxing or Bikram Yoga, which could bring up overwhelm. For trauma, it’s important to move slowly as you find what works for your mind and your body to heal.
When you learn how to work with your anger, you are contributing to your own good physical health and the health of your relationships. Remember, anger is not wrong or bad. It’s learning how to harness your anger that is some of the most important work you can do for yourself.
Photo of angry woman by Vera Kratochvil on Public Domain Pictures.
Photo of calm woman by George Hodan on Public Domain Pictures also.
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