Everybody feels angry sometimes. Although it might feel inconvenient, it is a healthy and natural part of life. Let's explore some of the underlying causes of anger and look at how we can relieve it when needed.
by Benedicte Nellemann Dittmer
Everybody feels angry sometimes. Although feeling angry might feel inconvenient, it is a healthy and natural part of life. In this post, we are going to be exploring some of the underlying causes of anger and look at how we can relieve it when needed.
Anger is an intense feeling that can go by many names. “Seeing red”, “feeling like a volcano about to erupt”, and “feeling like our blood is boiling” are just a few of the expressions used to describe the emotion. It shows just how universal the feeling angry truly is.
This hot, intense feeling of anger makes sense when we look into the biology behind the emotion. When detecting a threat, our sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering a release of hormones – adrenaline and noradrenaline. In turn, feeling angry causes our heartbeat to increase, breathing rate to quicken, and more. We call this the fight-or-flight response and is a way for our body to help us in situations that require action.
Often, feeling angry is a response to external factors such as other people or events. However, it can also come from within – Worrying about personal problems or blaming oneself can activate the fight-or-flight response just as much as external factors.
What can we do?
As we have seen, it’s perfectly normal to experience anger when we feel threatened. This can take on many forms. For example, there can be situations in our daily life that makes us feel disrespected, powerless, or not validated. Moreover, someone might overstep our boundaries and that can feel just as threatening as a physical threat.
Sometimes, the feeling will stick with us even when the situation that caused it has passed. Being able to move on is very important for our mental health, and there are many methods that help us do that.
Note: If some of the following steps seem a bit difficult, then you can talk to a trusted friend about how you feel and try to go over it together. You can also use my app and I will be happy to guide you through whatever you’re going through.
Step 1. Calming self
Before exploring our feelings, calming our bodies and minds is key, as it enables us to apply logic to the situation.
There are multiple ways to do this, and over time, you can figure out what works best.
Sometimes we need to pull out some calming music in order to ease ourselves off. In other situations, intense music can be exactly what we need, as it might match our mood in a way that makes us relax afterward.
Going for a walk or a run
As anger prepares our body for physical action, some sort of exercise can be a great way to relieve tension. Exercise in general is a great habit to build.
Using breathing techniques can be a surprisingly powerful tool when it comes to calming our bodies. These techniques work by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, also called the rest-and-digest response. This can then help counterbalance the effects of the fight-or-flight response.
Or something completely different
Often, you are the expert on exactly what makes you cool down. For example, I like to go and have smoothies made from grass and carrots with my best friend when I need to unwind. What’s something that can work for you?
Step 2. Discover underlying feelings
Understanding exactly why you are feeling angry can often be harder than expected, and you might discover that your anger comes from another underlying feeling. Oftentimes these feelings come from cognitive distortions we carry inside us.
In fact, Anger can be referred to as a secondary emotion, as it is often used to cover up other feelings such as feeling guilt and shame, or even jealousy. These feelings might not be as socially acceptable which is why we might use anger as a way to protect ourselves. However, in order to properly address the root causes of our anger, exploring those primary emotions can be crucial? There is value in every feeling, and being vulnerable might help us understand ourselves better.
Step 3. Explore the cognitive bias
Cognitive distortions are negative interpretations of situations that upset us. They are often attempts to protect ourselves in various situations such as feeling criticized or attacked. Some distortions are over-generalizations such as “she never listens to me” or mind-reading like “they don’t understand me”. Exploring and coping with cognitive distortions in our thinking can be a way to gain perspective on the situation and defuse that feeling of anger.
Step 4. Know that your anger is there for a reason and take action
If you can’t seem to relieve anger, it might be because the underlying reasons haven’t been resolved. In fact, left unresolved, these feelings are likely to return. We can try and find out what’s causing our anger, and then use our anger as a guide to change what needs to be changed.
But how do we do this? Acting constructively is the first way to go. E.g. if you are to confront someone who overstepped your boundaries, then you can ask yourself “How would I prefer a friend telling me that I overstepped their boundaries?”. Also, allowing yourself to take a break to calm down before addressing your frustration or irritation with someone (or yourself) may help you handle things more calmly and logically.
Would you like to learn more about feeling anger, explore some of my breathing tools, discover secondary emotions, or correct cognitive biases related to anger? Then head on over to my app where I can help you with all of the above? And in case you have any thoughts you would like to share with me, don’t hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.