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How To Keep Your Anger In Check, According To A Psychologist

You know the feels - you're stuck in heavy traffic, a colleague is really irritating you, or something unexpectedly goes wrong in your life. Before you know it, the rage brewing inside you has spurted up and out and you're unleashing fury on anyone and everyone in your vicinity. 

According to Psychology Australia, anger is an emotion that can range from mild annoyance to an intense range. It's not just your inner feels – there are physical changes accompanied with it too, like increased blood pressure, heart rate and adrenaline.

We spoke to Lysn COO and psychologist Tahnee Schulz, about seeing red and how you can better manage a short fuse.

Why are some people more prone to anger as an emotional response?

There are many reasons why some people are more prone to anger as an emotional response than others. Both nature and nurture can play an influential role. Some reasons people are prone to anger include their genetic makeup, epigenetics, personality type or temperament. Other reasons include past experiences such as sensitivity to threat or perception of injustice. This may be due to a history of painful or traumatic experiences or learnt behaviour.

Influencers in people’s lives such as parents or friends sometimes reinforce or model anger as a normal response. An example of modelling is a parent being aggressive in the home. This learnt behaviour over time can become a person’s automatic reaction to stress or challenge. A person can also be more vulnerable to experiencing anger when they are run down, tired or overwhelmed. 

Furthermore, there are some personality types that are recognised to be more prone to anger. For example, someone who is narcissistic may feel a sense of entitlement and grandeur. In situations where they feel they haven’t been rightly acknowledged, they’re likely to experience anger or irritability.

What can you do if you recognise that you have a short fuse? What are some techniques for calming ourselves?

If you think you’re ‘fiery’ or ‘hot headed’ there are plenty of exercises you can do to help calm yourself down. The first key thing is to get anger out of your blind spot and into your control. Not all anger is bad – but how we react toit and to develop self-awareness and self-regulation is important. Take some time to understand what the anger represents for you and to decide how you would like to respond to it in an empowering way. Imagining how you could respond in a way you’d be proud of, can help you gain perspective.

Try to identify what triggers you and what you can use as warning signs before you react. We usually ‘feel’ anger come on. Physical sensations of anger in the body can consume and overcome us. This may include feeling hot and sweaty, increased heart rate, clenched teeth or jaw, stiffness and/or tunnel vision. Recognising your ‘signature sensations’ of anger can be a powerful ‘heads up’ before you ‘blow your lid’. Learning when anger is coming on gives you the microsecond you need to stop and divert your autopilot reaction.

Try to practice taking time out before responding to situations. A lot of the time people who react with anger act that way because they haven’t had time to process their emotions properly or time to understand exactly what they’re feeling. Depending on the circumstances, taking a few moments or even hours before responding to a situation that has made you feel angry can help. The ‘time out’ will allow you to process your feelings, understand your emotional response and perhaps react less aggressively. Breathing exercises or activities that distract you like exercise can also help to calm you down.

When does anger become a problem that needs professional help?

Anger is a problem when it becomes your first response to a lot of scenarios. If you find that you’re doing this often, it’s worthwhile exploring professional help. If your anger moves to a stage where you become physical, start to bully, or become emotionally abusive, it’s time to seek professional help. Seeking professional help may also support your health. Over time, anger can impact our short-term memory and ability to learn and make decisions, and it can also increase inflammation in the body and reduce our immune system, making us prone to illness and disease. 

What are the physical and mental impact of regularly getting angry/worked up?

The physical signs can range from sweating, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, headaches, stomach aches and dizziness. Having these physical reactions can certainly take a toll on someone’s health, and long-term effects can include insomnia, heart problems, high blood pressure, adrenal fatigue and even cancer. The mental impact can affect someone (and the people close to them) in a myriad of ways. Constant feelings of anger can lead to a person feeling stressed, anxious and may even lead to depression. Not to mention the way it can affect their loved ones who are often on the receiving end!

Can out of character anger be a sign of something more serious?

There are various psychological disorders that may not have been diagnosed that can be attributed to out of character anger such as Autism, ADHD or Bipolar. This is not to say that all people who have a diagnosis experience this, but it’s important to understand the bigger picture. Also, health issues such as low blood sugar levels can sometimes lead to sudden bursts of anger. Chronic pain can be incredibly mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting and can make us feel more emotionally sensitive. Medicines and certain foods can also affect gut health and brain chemistry, leaving the body feeling hostile and uncomfortable. Changes in medicine or perhaps the contraceptive pill can affect a person’s mood and anger. Anger can be an out of character response as a result of these changes.