When we talk about the effects of stress we often focus on one set of threat emotions associated with anxiety, feelings of overwhelm or even panic. But another common reaction to stress, pressure and demands is anger. Here we provide some useful tips on channelling your anger, and how to win when you are close to losing it.
Over recent months we have faced unimaginable challenges. Stress and anxiety have been on the rise as we have all had to adjust and adapt. Along with this process of uncertainty and change have come feelings of frustration, annoyance and resentment. Whether we’ve been cross at the ever changing rules and regulations or agitated with others who don’t seem to prioritise safety, it has been hard to keep calm. These feelings might be fleeting, or they might persist over days or weeks. But how do we know when they have become unhelpful or even damaging to ourselves or other people?
Channelling your anger is useful for self-protection
Anger is a natural reaction to threat, an expression of the ‘fight’ aspect of our fight/flight response. It is an active response that prepares us to stand and battle it out rather than back down. The physiological and behavioural changes that come with anger help us to focus on the immediate threats we face. They allow us to deal effectively with the challenges we face and to protect ourselves when we need to. As such, anger can be helpful to us. And it can feel good to stand up against perceived injustices, creating a sense of power and control.
So we can see that, with the many threats associated with the Covid pandemic, anger is an understandable and sometimes helpful emotion.
The negative consequences of anger
Whilst anger is a reasonable and adaptive response to threat, helping us to stand up to challenge, it can also have negative consequences. As anger builds our thinking can become irrational and distorted. We begin to perceive threat in more and more places and this further fuels our negative patterns of thinking. So, although we might feel justified in our annoyance, irritation or resentment we risk taking actions that might not be proportionate or reasonable under the circumstances. And this can have unintended negative consequences for ourselves and those around us.
When anger reaches a peak we can lose control. This undermines our coping and hijacks our ability to behave rationally. At these times our bodies take over and bypass our thinking brain. Responding defensively, arguing back, picking fights, can all escalate a situation. And this makes it harder to think clearly and rationally, to problem-solve or find ways to resolve the situation.
Channelling your anger: How to win when you are close to losing it
So, how do we know when anger is becoming a problem? The answer will be different for all of us. But recognising your own early warning signs that you are close to losing control and channelling your anger is a good starting point.
Recognise when you are close to losing it
- Changes in your body: feeling tense, raised heart rate, sweating or churning stomach
- Changes in your thinking: ruminating, blaming others, being preoccupied with things you can’t change, making negative predictions or overgeneralising the challenges of a specific situation to other areas of your life
- Changes in your emotions: feelings of frustration, resentment or annoyance
- Changes in your actions: being snappy or irritable, spending lots of time complaining about the things you are unhappy with, drinking more alcohol or trying to numb emotions through online gaming or shopping.
Noticing other people’s reactions and feedback is also important in recognising that there is a problem.
When you notice the signs and symptoms of anger, it can help to ask yourself: Is feeling like this helping me to live the life I want? Is it allowing me to be the person I want to be or is it getting in the way? What are the unintended consequences of feeling and behaving this way?
Channel your anger
If you conclude that your feelings and actions are not helpful or there are unintended consequences, try stepping back to channel your anger by:
- Calming sympathetic nervous system arousal with controlled breathing
- Taking time out: removing yourself from the situation, writing down your thoughts and putting them to one side, doing something physical like a walk or taking some exercise
- Talking to someone else who might have a different perspective
- Doing something mindfully, allowing the thoughts to come and go but not engaging with them
- Asking yourself how someone else would see this, or how important this particular issue will be in 10 years’ time. Will you even remember it?
When we get angry, we can become too preoccupied with one idea. We lose sight of the other aspects of our life that are important to us. We forget what really matters and focus all our attention on this one thing that is bothering us.
Reminding yourself of who you really are, reflecting on your motivations and goals, can help you deal with anger to bounce back:
- Remind yourself of your values and aspirations: what is important in your life aside from this one issue
- Reconnect with hobbies and interests, the things that you normally love doing
- Spend time with people who you care about and who care about you
- Remind yourself of your strengths and try using them in novel ways
If you found this helpful and would like to read more bitesize tips to boost your health and wellbeing at work and at home, check out some of the other blogs.