The Meaning of Anger
As long as human emotions have been studied, anger has been a prominent subject. Musings and accounts dating back to Aristotle indicate the vast literature available on this subject. Given this fact, a lot has been said about anger as an emotion, a feeling, a “Flight-Fight” Response, etc. Anger has been defined as an emotion that involves responses to perceived provocation1. It has both internal (personality issues, hostility, etc.) and external factors (peer influence, environmental factors, etc.) at play2. There are four major elements of anger3,4
- Thoughts: As anger is considered a product of thinking processes that take place before the actual emotion develops.
- Feelings: Pain and fear are the best examples of feeling states that precede anger.
- Behaviour: The overt expression of anger
- Physiological Arousal: The biological changes triggered by anger include increased heart rate, flushed face, hormonal changes, etc.
Expression of Anger
The expression of anger involves the following ways5:
A. Destructive, and unfruitful behaviours such as yelling, throwing objects, etc.
B. Suppression of anger leading to self destructive behaviours such as self-criticism, drinking, etc.
C. Positive expressions to control anger by calming oneself, and using constructive measures to deal with events.
Anger also has essential instinctive elements that are important role for “fight or flight” like reactions. Thus, anger can be useful if6:
A. It serves to protect oneself or others from potential danger
B. It is constructively oriented, and controlled.
However, anger becomes problematic if one3,4:
- Exhibits tendencies to harm, disparage, and insult other people
- Uses violent measures unnecessarily
- Expresses anger frequently and for undue periods of time
- Develops issues such as anxiety, depression, poor social relationships, etc.
As an emotion, anger is definitely manageable. Various theorists and experts have focussed on this area highlighting various strategies for effective control and management of anger. There are many other strategies other than the ones discussed here. However, the common link between them is their intended purpose of providing constructive expressions and outlet for anger. Supervision from mental health professionals is highly recommended when applying these strategies. They can be applied on a general basis as well.
Strategies focusing on thoughts:
- Modifying expectations: Modification of expectations that one holds from a situation or significant others is often helpful. It helps in building self reliance and healthier relationships.
- Imagery: Trying to imagine the consequences of one’s action can provide a time gap to analyse responses better, especially when it focuses on making constructive choices.
- Thought stopping: Using cues and signs to switch to an alternate activity and halting an angry thought process is also beneficial.
- Channelize thoughts: Constructive channelization of thoughts helps to dissipate negative emotions.
Strategies focusing on feeling:
- Maintain a journal: Avoid bottling up painful feelings. Instead, express them in a daily/weekly journal. This allows a healthy outlet
- Confide in significant others: Consider expressing feelings about events to close friends or confidantes. Such effective communication can help in feeling relaxed and positive.
Strategies focusing on behaviour:
- Creative activities: Indulging in creative pursuits like painting, music, photography, etc is a constructive attempt to break the cycle of anger.
- Improving time management skills: Often the incompletion of a task serves as a trigger for anger. Thus, working on improving such skills can help avoid unpleasant outcomes.
- Practicing healthy lifestyle habits: Engaging in exercise, eating healthy, maintaining adequate sleep hours, etc provide impetus to anger management.
Strategies focusing on physiological responses::
- Meditation: Known for its healing effects, meditative practices such a mantra chanting, muscle relaxation, etc., bolster constructive and positive emotions.
- Counting: Counting backwards or forwards from say 1-100 or 50-1, can serve as a distraction as well as a time bracket to calm oneself steadily.
Anger management is a fluid routine that can be adapted to various settings, and individual needs. It is important to understand underlying dynamics of negative expressions of anger and therefore therapy is recommended. Professional guidance on anger management has more potential for success.
1.Videbeck, S. (2006). Psychiatric mental health nursing. Philadelphia, PA:Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
2.Novaco, R.W. (2000). Anger. In A.E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology. Wahington, D.C:American Psychological Association and Oxford University Press.
3. Bhave S., & Saini, S. (2009). Anger management. New Delhi, ND; Sage Publications
4.Faupel, A., Herrick, E., & Sharp, P. (2011). Anger management-A practical guide. Abington;OT;Routledge.
5.Spielberger, C. D. (1999). State-trait anger expression inventory. Research Edition: Professional Manual. Florida: Psychological Assessment Resources.
6.Schiraldi, G., & Kerr, M. (2002). Anger management sourcebook. New York, NY:McGraw Hill.