Anger is a naturally occurring emotion that ranges from mild annoyance to furious rage. There is great potential upside to anger. Anger can enable perseverance in the face of obstacles, mobilize resources to take corrective action, fuel resilience, be a guardian of self-esteem, and can potentiate the ability to redress grievances. However, the benefits of anger are often offset by its role in aggression and violent behavior that causes damaged relationships, destruction of property, and health complications. Anger is also often entangled with distressed feelings like sadness, fear, and disappointment. There are staggering statistics and ongoing horrific news events associated with out of control anger.
Stressors, sleep deprivation, fatigue, poor diet, and pain, all lower our aggressive reaction threshold. Chronic anger reactivity harms our cardiovascular system and is associated with high blood pressure as well as other diseases. Chronic anger occurs in a wide range of psychological disorders, intensifying various forms of behavioral dyscontrol, mood disorders, personality problems, and substance abuse addictions. Research has found that passively succumbing to the outward expression of all our anger actually escalates aggression, while doing little to effectively resolve the situation. This is not a surprising finding as anger arousal interferes with information processing, detracting from our ability to take prudent, considerate action.
By knowing your anger provocation triggers – e.g., traffic jams, an annoying co-worker, brooding, ruminating – you can develop ways to modulate anger for constructive, functional outcomes. This requires examining your perception of threats. Chronically angry people have lower thresholds for perceiving threats, slights, and attacks. Such people often feel the world is personally prosecuting them, as if they alone are being singled out for unfair treatment, leaving them feeling frustrated and victimized. Often what is happening has little to do with them and most everything to do with an objective, physical world going about its impersonal business.
Generating alternative mental filters can help our internal self-talk, which in turn helps tolerating noxiously angry feelings better. By expanding the apertures of our mental filters, we can generate such constructive self-talk like, “I can deal with when things don’t go my own way,” or, “It’s not awful or horrible that the light turned red.” How many of us have bemoaned, “I don’t need this stuff now!” Some form of a less dire internal statement could make that momentary hiccup pass faster. Other examples of anger deescalating self-talk can include focusing on the probabilities of positive, as opposed to negative, outcomes, or to assume kind and benign motives towards the actions of others. Acceptance that the world simply will not conform to your view of things – despite your firm belief that you have it correctly – can be tremendously beneficial. It is also important to recognize that sometimes no solution is available and it is better to walk away than increase your frustration in a no-win circumstance. After successfully negotiating an anger-arousing situation it is important to reflect on what helped you maintain a constructive approach. By enhancing flexible thinking to frustrating situations you will become less angry, became a better problems solver, and will end up decreasing the aggregate of aggression that we all so desperately need.