Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Anger is a beast.⠀
It can bubble up seemingly out of nowhere, explode and pass just as quickly leaving destruction in its wake, or it can linger for years, like a toxic poison slowly contaminating every aspect of our health, wellness, relationships and success.⠀
While it can be quite destructive and over time a pattern of anger can impact overall health and wellness, anger is actually an integral and healthy part of the body's "fight, flight, or freeze" system, which helps protect us from threats or danger. The unfortunate part of this is that the mind doesn't always successfully discern between a real, impending threat and an emotional trigger from historical experiences where we may have needed protection in the past, but really don't now.
Also, did you know that anger is pretty much never the original emotion? Anger is usually what we call a secondary emotion because it is triggered by other emotions which often feel far more out of control, vulnerable, or scary.⠀
Here's an example: You hear that a group of your closest friends are going to see your absolute favorite band together and you were not invited. You steam with anger and have an urge to lash out at them verbally, or give them the cold-shoulder to show them how angry you feel about it. Anger seems like a reasonable reaction...but when you look a little more closely, it's probably more about hurt, pain, feeling left out and sadness.
Anger is the "enforcer" emotion we allow to take charge when we feel softer, more uncomfortable emotions like fear or sadness.
Let's face it, fear, loneliness and sadness often leave us feeling powerless...so their bigger, stronger older brother, anger, is usually summoned to step in and do the dirty work. Anger "feels" more powerful - more in charge. But anger is very rarely (if ever) the root emotion.⠀
According to Medical News Today, the signs and symptoms of anger can vary from person to person. Anger affects the mind and body in a variety of ways.
Effects that anger may have on the body include:
increased heart rate
tightness in the chest
clenching jaws or grinding teeth
shaking or trembling
Effects that anger may have on the mind include feeling:
anxious, nervous, or unable to relax
urges to strike out physically or verbally
Other behaviors and feelings associated with anger may include:
shouting, yelling, screaming, or crying
acting in an abusive manner
craving substances such as alcohol, drugs or tobacco
With that in mind, how the heck do you slow the roll of your temper long enough to discern what's really underneath it? It takes practice and presence: When you feel the flush of anger, take a big, deep breath, tell yourself it's ok to pause for a moment before you react, then take stock. By asking yourself a series of simple questions, you'll be better able to choose to react in anger, or (hopefully) more adaptively express the softer, more vulnerable emotions under the anger.
If you'd like to learn more and download my free worksheet:
The next time you feel anger bubbling up (or lashing out), know that there are steps you can take to slow it down, get in touch with the "setup," the circumstances, your body's reactions, the more tender underlying emotions, and then, gain clarity on what it is you really need in that moment.