Calming the Anger in Us All

Woman in front of laptop meditating to calm anger
Woman in front of laptop meditating to calm anger

by Ama Larsen, Social Work Professor

One day in junior high I was drawing on the chalkboard after school. As I was drawing another student entered the room and began scribbling over my work. In a split second, a feeling of disrespect took over me. I saw red.

Anger, like other emotions, is natural, needed and communicates a message. Anger can be the desperate, extreme cry to be heard, validated and nurtured. We’ve all seen the angry monster rear its ugly head when we collide with certain people and circumstances.

From a biological perspective, anger increases our heart rate and blood pressure, tightens our muscles and releases the hormone adrenaline. Adrenaline is the stress hormone that activates the fight-or-flight response to our environment. We all have the potential to turn into the Incredible Hulk. During an angry episode, more oxygen is directed to our muscles and lungs and the body can lessen the impact of pain.

We get angry for a variety of reasons. These may include, “…losing…[our] patience, feeling as if… [our] opinion or efforts aren't appreciated, and injustice. Other causes of anger include memories of traumatic or enraging events and worrying about personal problems.” (www.mayoclinic.org)

The effects of anger include, “…heart disease, diabetes, a weakened immune system, insomnia, high blood pressure,…stress, depression, and other mental health problems.” (www.helpguide.org). Anger can affect our relationships and ruin our careers as a result of lack of control. How many times do you wish you could take back an angry outburst?

Anger indicates a problem. How we respond to the problem determines how the anger is expressed. Anger funneled for a cause can lead us to healthy transformations and advocating for justice, and other types of reactive, non-controlled responses lead to unresolved changes.

So what can we do when we feel angry? Below are some simple steps that could help in most situations.

Pause, take a deep breath and say nothing until your thoughts and actions can be controlled. We’ve all often made comments we regret.

After gathering yourself, asses the situation for safety. You may have to walk away to deescalate the state of affairs if the person you are with or circumstance you are in can erupt with physical or verbal confrontation. My favorite inspirational pastor, TD Jakes, says the best way to avoid a fight is to never get into the ring.

If the situation does not threaten your safety, in a calm voice, acknowledge the issue has caused discomfort and a better time and space might help to resolve the differences.

Pick a time and date to talk with the rule of using respectful language. Before talking, think about the problem, jot down the root causes of why the issue causes you anger. Anger can be a symptom of a deep unresolved need. Discuss your need, contributions to the problem and what you can do differently to resolve the concern and anger.  Ask the person to do the same.

If taking face to face is not helpful, start the conversation through a series of emails, and if the relationship allows for it, use your phone to text through the discussion. A creative approach for couples is using a notebook to write out thoughts, leaving the notebook in a safe and agreed space, and taking turns to respond to comments.

After a mutual understanding is established, celebrate the discussion with a gesture or a small gift to thank the other person. This act provides positive reinforcement and sets the stage for how future problems that result in anger can be resolved healthily and can decrease the fear of addressing the root causes of the anger.

References

Help Guide. (n.d.). Anger management. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/anger-management.htm

Hormone Health Network. (n.d.). What is adrenaline? Retrieved from https://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/hormones/adrenaline

Mayo Clinic (n.d.). Anger management: Your questions answered. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/anger-management/art-20048149