Keeping Your Anger Under Control

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In my work with individuals and couples, I see many people who have a difficult time expressing and managing angry feelings. Let's take a look at what causes people to become angry and how they can respond to stressful situations more productively.

What Is Anger?

Many people think that anger is caused by hormonal changes or brain activity. This is only partly true. Researchers have found that while hormones play a role in an angry response, there is always a cognitive (thinking) component.

Some people think that humans are innately aggressive or warlike. While our behavior is sometimes hostile toward others, anger is not part of our basic nature.

Frustration may lead to aggression, but it is not inevitable. Some people respond to frustrating events with anger, while others don't. Anger is only one response to frustration. In many cultures, people are taught to respond to frustration in other ways.

Since Freud's day, psychologists have disagreed about the value of venting feelings. It may surprise you to know that today's research shows that expressing anger often results in more irritation and tension rather than feeling more calm.

Why Expressing Anger Can Be Bad for You

Giving vent to anger can produce the following kinds of harmful effects:

- Your blood pressure increases.
- The original problem is worse rather than better.
- You come across as unfriendly and intimidating.
- The other person becomes angry with you as a result of your behavior.

Physical Effects of Anger

Heart. Researchers at Stanford University have found that of all the personality traits found in Type A patients, the potential for hostility is the key predictor for coronary disease. The combination of anger and hostility is the most deadly.

Stomach and intestines. Anger has a very negative effect on the stomach and has even been associated with the development of ulcerative colitis.

Nervous system. Anger is bad for you because it exaggerates the associated hormonal changes. Chronic suppressed anger is damaging because it activates the sympathetic nervous system responses without providing any release of the tension. It is a bit like stepping down on a car's accelerator while slamming on the brakes.

Why We Get into the Anger Habit

Anger is our response to stress. Many times we feel anger to avoid feeling some other emotion, such as anxiety or hurt. Or we may feel angry when we are frustrated because we want something and can't have it. Sometimes, feeling angry is a way of mobilizing ourselves in the face of a threat.

Anger may be useful because it stops (blocks) stress. Here are two examples:

1. You are rushing all day in your home office to meet an impossible deadline. Your daughter bounces in after school and gives you a big hug as you furiously type on your computer. You snap, "Not now! Can't you see I'm busy?"

2. You have just finished taking an important exam. You have studied for weeks and the result is very important to your career. You fantasize all the way home about dinner at your favorite Italian restaurant. When you get home, your husband has prepared a steak dinner for you. You yell, "Why don't you ask me before you just assume you know what I want?"

This explains why people often respond with anger when they experience the following kinds of stress:

- Anxiety
- Being in a hurry
- Being overstimulated
- Being overworked
- Depression
- Fatigue
- Fear
- Feeling abandoned or attacked
- Feeling forced to do something you don't want to do
- Feeling out of control
- Guilt, shame, or hurt
- Loss
- Physical pain

What to Do Instead of Getting Angry

Here are some constructive things can you do to reduce stress-instead of becoming angry:

- Beat a pillow with a tennis racket.
- Cry.
- Do relaxation exercises.
- Get physical exercise.
- Listen to your favorite music.
- Make a joke.
- Play games.
- Say it out loud.
- State your needs assertively.
- Take a nap.
- Tell a friend about it.
- Work.
- Write about it.

About the Author:

Garrett Coan, MSW, LCSW is Founder and Director of the Center for Creative Counseling, a team of expert and licensed therapists and coaches providing phone and internet counseling services to clients throughout the United States and worldwide. To arrange a no-obligation, complimentary consultation, call 1-877-958-4769 or visit them on the Web at http://www.creativecounselors.com

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