Your pulse is rising, your jaw is clenched and you want to scream. No one is listening to you and your frustration is about to boil over. Anger is a typical response to feeling unappreciated, frustrated, impatient or maltreated.
Anyone can lose themselves in a fit of rage, unable to control their response to their displeasure; however, some can’t channel their anger into healthy behaviors. Instead of responding to their feelings by stepping back and evaluating the situation, they explode in an emotional outburst. There can be consequences to open displays of anger in our work, social and family lives.
People will always become angry; it’s how they handle their anger that matters.
What is Anger?
Your feeling of injustice, impatience or being not listened to can cause a chemical reaction in your brain, resulting in anger. Another cause of anger is a perceived threat to your well-being. When you feel threatened, your body responds to the perceived threat by releasing adrenaline. The release of adrenaline can affect your body for several minutes. Knowing what triggers your anger is essential to learning how to redirect your anger.
Therapists who employ cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat those with anger issues believe some anger triggers are:
- Previous life experiences — Physical abuse, sexual assault, illnesses such as cancer or traumatic experiences and/or military experiences can build up anger.
- Learned behavior — Dr. Harry Mills’ theory of anger states: “Anger is not an emotion that we are born with, rather one that is learned. We learn how to become angry in multiple ways. As children, we learn by copying the behavior of people around us.” You learn how to express your anger by watching others. Your parents, friends or work peers can influence how you react to situations.
- Genetic predisposition — Your brain can reprogram its cells. If you have a family history of mental health disorders or addiction, your ancestors’ DNA can show signs of alteration. Anger acts on the composition of your DNA in the same way.
- The inability to solve problems.
- Alcohol — An excessive amount of alcohol can affect how our brain reacts to outside influences. You can respond to people or situations in a way you wouldn’t when you are sober.
- Drugs — Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines can trigger unwarranted anger. Club drugs like ecstasy, PCP or LSD are another class of substances that can cause irritation or extreme aggression.
Medical conditions can also cause anger. Here are a few mental health disorders that are associated with anger:
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Intermittent explosive disorder — This disorder isn’t as well known as the ones listed above. You can have this disorder if you find yourself with unexplained anger or uncalled for rage.
You can handle anger differently than your family members, friends or work colleagues. Some are quick to anger, while others rarely, if ever, display signs of irritation. You can recognize your triggers and symptoms of anger. You may not know how to appropriately direct your emotions because you weren’t taught how to use anger constructively or control it. You may experience instances when you don’t recognize the symptoms of anger and behave irrationally. After acting out, you can find yourself feeling embarrassed, uncomfortable or in a troublesome position.
There are times when anger is justified and appropriate. By expressing anger, you can convey your concern about a situation, prevent yourself from being taken for granted or mistreated, or take steps towards solving a problem. An expression of anger can motivate you to change your life. Anger is a natural feeling but it should be managed and not make you feel as though you are spiraling out of control.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Anger
During the time between when your brain releases adrenaline and when your body relaxes, several symptoms occur. You can fail to associate behaviors commonly displayed when you are angry because you normalized them. The ability to recognize these behaviors can take time and patience. An effective way to learn to identify triggers and symptoms of anger is engaging in individual or group treatment. Some symptoms of anger are:
- Increased heart rate
- Clenching of hands or jaw
- Teeth grinding
- Stomach pains
- Feeling flush in head/neck
The symptoms of anger can follow its stages, which can feel like a rollercoaster. You can be unaware you are going through several different steps in your anger. The stages are:
- Feeling angry
- Acting on anger
- Relief after expressing anger
- After anger — This stage is when you are vulnerable to triggers and can become angered quickly.
Eventually, you return to a normal state and regret what you said or did while you were angry. When you are calm, there is an opportunity to learn what triggered your anger and cope with angry feelings healthily. You can write down your triggers and goals to address your anger; they can help your therapist help you learn healthy behaviors.
You can manage your anger through therapy. Learning to recognize and handle your anger is not something you should do alone. Becoming involved in individual or group therapy is a positive approach. Underlying causes are identified through treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. If your anger stems from a mental health disorder, past experiences, genetic predisposition, learned behavior, or alcohol or drug addiction, interpersonal or group therapy is essential. Medical care while discontinuing alcohol or drug use is vital to your health. Working with a therapist while discovering underlying causes can reduce the risk of physical or emotional harm. Professionally trained therapists who coordinate your care with medical doctors, other trained personnel and holistic therapies ensure your well-being. Learning to manage your anger can lead to a healthier, happier life.
Anger is normal. Everyone expresses anger when they feel threatened, ignored, unappreciated or harmed. While some can acknowledge their anger and can use it appropriately to convey their feelings, not everyone is aware of their anger or can handle their emotions. You can discover why you are often angry or become angry in certain situations when you seek help for your anger, especially if the reason behind it is the use of drugs and alcohol. Casa Palmera in Del Mar, California, has a staff of medical doctors, therapists and other trained professionals who can guide you through treatment. We offer cognitive behavioral therapy, modes of interpersonal/group therapy and holistic therapies. If you want to learn more or schedule an appointment, call us at (855) 508-0473.