The first week in December is Anger Awareness Week and UKCP member Lindsay Percival looks at the upsides as well as the downsides of this basic human emotion.
It is normal and healthy to feel angry from time to time, getting worked up is not a sign that there is anything wrong or that there is an underlying mental health problem. It can become a problem, though, when reactions are inappropriate, out-of-control, or prolonged. Shouting, screaming, hitting, punching, kicking or throwing things around, for example, at work, at home, on a train or bus, in the supermarket, behind the car wheel or in the classroom, can cause situations to escalate, damage to property and relationships, and lead to loss of jobs, marriages and school places. Uncontrolled anger is behind domestic violence and the rise in street crime with 2018 being the fourth worst year on record for knife crime among under-20s in England and Wales.
With all this in mind, Anger Awareness Week aims to draw attention to anger as a disturbing social issue and help people find healthier ways to express their intense feelings without hurting or harming themselves or others.
In its essence anger is a natural survival response that helps get us out of danger. When we are threatened or attacked anger triggers our fight or flight response, helping us defend ourselves effectively or run away. It causes the body to release adrenaline, muscles to tighten and the heart rate and blood pressure to increase.
A lot depends on your personal history as to how you react when triggered. If you weren’t taught how to express anger appropriately you might ruminate on your problems and make yourself miserable and depressed or you might store it up and explode like a volcano.
Everyone has their own triggers for anger. Here are some common things that could cause you to see red:
- alcohol, drugs, lack of sleep, stress and hunger
- feeling unappreciated, unloved or disrespected in some way
- unresolved trauma leaving your nervous system easily aroused
- loss of a loved one, home, job or pet
- underlying medical conditions, illness or injuries
- relationship breakdown
- mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or personality disorders.
Pent up anger can hurt others if you tend to lash out physically or verbally. There is also evidence that you could be hurting yourself. Anger and hostility is linked to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and peptic ulcers. It is also linked to inflammation and an increase in chronic pain.
On the other hand, anger can be helpful in many ways:
- It helps you to set boundaries with people or situations, to say no to things that aren’t right for you. If it feels wrong and makes you angry trust your instincts, it probably is. Rather than destroying relationships it helps strengthen them by setting limits and staying true to your needs.
- Anger helps you know when you are really stretched and need to take a break. It is also a sign of burnout and means you need to slow down and take care of yourself.
- Anger helps you get things done. If you are feeling angry that the world is an unfair or unjust place and you hate your company, your boss and the people you work with, use it to gain clarity, make changes and find out what you really want to do with your life.
Anger is linked to passion, creativity, drive and sexuality. In essence it’s energy and it’s neither good nor bad. It’s about how you channel that energy that really matters.
If you need help learning how to use anger constructively, to state your needs and concerns clearly and directly without hurting others you could consider getting the professional help of a psychotherapist or psychotherapeutic counsellor.