These days anger is all around us. Last week I spoke of anger acted out inappropriately in road rage, but if you follow the news or have a social media account you know anger is bubbling up everywhere.
Right now a lot of people are angry at political realities, social injustices, catastrophes, health issues and any number of things large and small.
I suspect the sense that today is a particularly angry time is the result of the way technology allows us to access and share anger so easily.
But is all of this anger good for us? Is it healthy or productive? Or does it damage us in some way?
Anger is a normal emotional response. Its existence is part of the human experience and not something we can control. Of course, what we must learn to do is control the way we react to our anger and identify when anger is serving a useful purpose or has potential to cause damage to our health and relationships.
We do know it’s not healthy to be constantly angry. This heightened physiological state can take its toll on us physically and a persistent feeling of anger is not typically productive in relationships either.
I recently read an article exploring different types of anger, which suggested anger directed at a person is more likely to be harmful than anger directed at a fact. Anger toward an individual tends to be tied with a desire for payback of some kind, while anger at a fact or state of affairs can motivate us to take appropriate action.
For example, if people felt no anger over racial inequalities or other social justice issues, we may not be inspired to do away with oppression.
But let’s face it – we all feel direct anger at people sometimes. So how can we deal with it in a way that protects our health and relationships?
Here are a few tips. First, think before you speak. When someone has successfully pushed your buttons, try to take a few moments to collect your thoughts or give yourself a time out rather than simply reacting and saying (or typing) something you will regret. Once you’re calm and the heat of the moment has passed, it will be much easier to express anger calmly with solutions in mind.
If you are feeling consistently angry and irritable, consider what is underlying this state of mind. Fatigue, hunger and stress are all common causes of increased irritability. If there is an ongoing situation with a family member or colleague causing you anger, take time to identify possible solutions when emotions are calm.
Relaxation skills such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation can also be helpful in allowing anger to dissipate.
Don’t hold a grudge. If you hold on to anger and allow negative feelings to crowd out positive ones, you may end up consumed by bitterness.
When forgiveness and reconciliation are not possible, you may need to give yourself distance from a person or situation.
Some mental health conditions including depression and anxiety disorders have increased irritability as common symptoms. When this is the case, the problem can recede when the condition is appropriately managed.
If you still can’t keep your anger in check, don’t be afraid to speak with your doctor. Help is available and could make a big difference.