Anger: How do you control it?

(Photo: Handout from Rifaat Al-Nasser on Flicker)
AMMAN — Anger is an emotion felt by nearly everyone to varying degrees. It is one of our basic emotions similar to happiness and sadness. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding anger labels it a “bad” emotion. Similar to other emotions, anger is a normal and healthy response to stimuli. It is how we direct these emotions and the reasons they manifest in the first place that define whether a response is healthy or it needs to be controlled. اضافة اعلان

Anger can be one of the stronger emotions felt, owing to the physiological involvement of nearly the entire body. Understanding what anger is and the effect it has on our body allows us to properly direct the energy in a healthy manner.

What is Anger?

Anger is a completely natural and normal emotion and there should be no shame in feeling or expressing anger. Dr. Charles Spielberger, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger. defines it as “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.”

Anger can be the result of external events such as getting cut off in traffic or internal events such as worrying or grief. Instinctively we express anger through aggression, but laws and societal norms do not allow this, so our response must be tempered in some way. We instead suppress our anger, redirect it in a more constructive and positive way.

Currently there are three classifications of anger: passive-aggressive anger, assertive anger, and openly aggressive anger. Passive-aggressive anger is often the result of repressed anger that has not been dealt with properly and results in a unhealthy expression of emotions.

Assertive anger is considered a healthy form of expressing anger. It involves suppressing anger in order to speak calmly and explain why we are angry. This kind of anger is expressed through verbal communication and is non-threatening. The final form of anger is openly aggressive anger. This type of anger is particularly concerning as it involves physical or verbal aggression and is directed at a person with the intent to cause emotional or physical harm.

There are two ways in which anger can be expressed, verbally and nonverbally. Verbal expression uses words to express anger. The severity can range from a calm and collected explanation of why the person is angry, to the use of offensive words in an aggressive tone and with a raised voice.

Nonverbal expression is more physical in nature. This form of expression includes subtle changes in behavior such as a clenched jaw or trembling but may also evolve into violent or aggressive actions that may result in harm to the person against whom the anger is directed or to those expressing anger.

(Photo: Handout from Rifaat Al-Nasser on Flicker)

What Happens When You Get Angry?

Anger is a powerful emotion and at times it may feel overwhelming. Feelings of anger often trigger an autonomic response through our sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for regulating all basic functions in the human body such as heart rate, blood pressure, etc.

The body’s ANS is comprised of two systems: the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) that controls homeostasis and the body at rest and is responsible for the body's "rest and digest" function, and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) that controls the body's responses to a perceived threat and is responsible for what is called the “fight or flight” response.

Our ANS is entirely subconscious but may be heavily influenced by our emotional state. Emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger can stimulate the SNS into a “fight or flight” response. This response was an evolutionary tool that allowed our bodies to heighten our senses, awareness, strength, and speed by providing ample nutrients and oxygen to key areas of the body such as the brain and muscles, while reducing blood flow to less essential organs such as the skin or stomach. The fight or flight response was paramount to our survival but in modern society where the risk of life-threatening situations are minimal it has become more of a hindrance.

The stimulation of the SNS, and by extension anger, is associated with many observable physiological changes. This includes increased energy levels, raised blood pressure, an increase in hormones that further excite the body such as adrenaline and noradrenaline, increased body temperature, and increased muscle tension.

The physical expression of anger can manifest in a variety of forms and is largely dependent on the individual and magnitude of the emotion felt. Although the fundamental changes in physiology due to the SNS are universal, this may be accompanied by observable external behavioral changes as well. Visible changes can include a raised voice, clenched fists or jaw, frowning or scowling, physical trembling, excessive sweating, and pacing.

Due to the extreme physiological and behavioral changes in the body caused by anger, a lack of control over our emotional state may have detrimental effects on our physical and mental wellbeing. These changes are strenuous on the body and frequent occurrences over time may result in medical complications later down the line. These complications can include high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, insomnia, substance abuse, gastric ulcers, bowel disease, and even diabetes.

How to Control Anger

The first question one should ask is do they have an anger issue or are their responses reasonable. Being angry is not an issue in and of itself, it is an emotion just like any other. The two components to focus on for healthy self-evaluation is the threshold for frustration and the expression of anger. People with anger management issues tend to have a low threshold for frustration, that is sometimes called a “short fuse.”

On its own, having a short fuse is not cause for great concern although it may make integration into society more difficult. People should constantly self-evaluate to better improve themselves and if they feel they have a short fuse, they should work on it.

The area of concern relates more to how the anger is expressed. If anger is expressed in a manner that does not resort to violent or aggressive tendencies, then it is a healthy expression. On the flip side, if the anger is completely suppressed and not vented or redirected, this is also unhealthy as it will lead to passive-aggressive behavior.

Fortunately, there are many methods for controlling anger, whether it is mere irritation all the way to rage. Everyone is different and some methods aren’t for everyone. Interpersonal reflection, experimentation with different methods, and being determined, are all needed in order to have a better handle on emotions.

To start, learn how to calm down. Anger can affect our bodies adversely, but there are physical techniques to regulate our emotions. Relaxing the body will ultimately relax the mind. Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, or even positive imagery can help stimulate the PNS and return the body to its resting state.

In time, these techniques can be used to ultimately prevent bouts of anger and help to increase a person’s threshold for frustration. The key is for each person to find what helps relax them. In addition, cognitive restructuring has been shown to be beneficial to many individuals. Cognitive restructuring helps people handle their emotions in a logical and rational way. Fortunately, Jordan is home to many renowned therapists, clinical psychologists, and psychiatrists that are open minded and take a holistic approach to patient care. 

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