I have recently been asked a number of questions about anger – why is it harder to control anger when you are stressed, how to cope when you loose your temper, how to calm your own anger down and so on. In this blog, I explore anger – which is sometimes particularly difficult for people with anxiety.
Anger can manifest itself in all sorts of ways. Most children go through a stage of having temper tantrums, and some carry this on into the rest of their lives. Some people scream and shout when they are angry, and some go quiet even though they are burning with rage on the inside. You can get angry with strangers, or with the ones you love. These can end up in blazing rows, or the coldness of trying to freeze each other out. You can be angry with yourself, when you don’t achieve what you want to achieve, or angry with the world in general, when things don’t go your way.
Whatever the cause, whatever the outcome, its easier to slip into anger when you are stressed.
The Four Stages of Anger
Now you can think of anger happening in four stages:
Stage 1 is the trigger – something happens that kicks you off – Maybe someone cuts you up when you’re driving … or you’re at the airport about to go on holiday and you find you left your passport at home … or your partner just doesn’t seem to listen to you.
Stage 2 is loss of control – the angry part of your brain takes over, and yes, there is a separate part of your brain that deals with anger. It takes over and fills you full of adrenalin and cortisol … you stop thinking clearly as the angry part of your brain dominates the thinking part. This can happen very quickly.
Stage 3 is your immediate reaction – the angry part of your brain, being very stupid, just does what it always does – it gets you to swear, shout or throw things – or for some people, it gets you to go really quiet and still, while inside you’re seething.
Stage 4 is the aftermath – you’ve regained control from the angry part of your brain, but you still have that cortisol running through your veins which keeps you feeling on edge. You may have to apologise to others or sort out whatever it was you just did. And you will have added a lot of stress to that bucket of stress we keep – your brain will need to sort that out.
Now people tell me that they need to swear or shout as it relieves the tension. And yes, they are right – that immediate reaction you have after loosing control is a way of relieving the tension. However, you don’t have to loose control in the first place.
You need to train your brain to think differently about things. This takes time and effort; you can’t do it overnight.
Start by recognising what your triggers are. Is it that politician you hate spouting off again, or the kids not getting up in time for school, or maybe its your boss accusing you of doing something you didn’t do. When you know what triggers you, you can start to do something about it.
Once you’ve recognised your triggers, your can reframe them. Find a way to think about them differently.
I remember driving my car, when another car suddenly screeched in front of me and we both swerved and just missed each other. The other driver started shouting and I could hear him swearing at me. But my thought had been, “Phew, that was lucky. I better be really careful the next time I drive down here with idiots like that around.” He then wound down the window shouting rude names at me and giving me the finger. I found myself laughing – poor guy, he had totally lost control and seemed to be trying to make me loose control as well. It’s just a different way of thinking about the triggers.
So if your most hated politician starts spouting off again – just laugh at them and say, “Isn’t it funny how an idiot like that actually believes that rubbish.”
If your kids won’t get up in time to get to school, just tell them calmly that they can be late to school if they want, but they’ll just have to put up with the detention.
If you’re boss accuses you of doing something wrong that you didn’t, just tell them that they got it wrong – or maybe start looking for a better boss.
There are other ways to react instead of being angry. You don’t need to rise to it and loose control. And believe me, you will feel so much better for it, once you learn to shrug your shoulders and brush off any of those triggers. Imagine never having to be angry again.
Photo by Raamin ka on Unsplash