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Managing anger appropriately an essential life skill

This is the final part of a series on mental health.

Perhaps no human emotion is more misconstrued and maligned than the emotion of anger.

Anger, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, but many people have been conditioned to believe that even feeling anger — much less expressing it — is wrong, sinful, or something to be avoided at all costs.

Many people suppress their anger and wind up with negative physical consequences like heart disease and hypertension that can, at least partially, be rooted in their having dealt inappropriately with their anger.

Many other people mismanage their anger in an entirely different way, giving free reign to unbridled rage and causing trouble for themselves in interpersonal relationships, on the job, and in some cases, even with the law.

“Anger is an emotion,” said Denis Navarro, retired outpatient services director and clinical specialist at the UPMC Altoona Behavioral Health Services Department. “In and of itself, anger is not a bad thing. The anger itself isn’t an issue. [The important issue is] anger management, because if you don’t deal with it, anger affects you physically [with things like] heart conditions, high blood pressure and all sorts of physiological reactions. The anger can be very destructive.”

Dealing appropriately with anger is an essential skill that must be cultivated in order to live a healthy, happy life.

“There are so many negative repercussions if you don’t manage it, and there are so many ways to manage it,” Navarro said. “It’s not like there aren’t things to do.”

Among the healthiest outlets for a person to engage in is distracting himself or herself with other activities.

“Go for a walk, run a mile, do something other than acting on that anger,” Navarro said.

Hitting a punching bag or lifting weights can also be beneficial for some people. Sometimes, walking, running or working out just aren’t viable options — at least in the immediate moment. In that instance, it may be helpful for a person to go get a drink of water, take several long, deep breaths or physically remove himself or herself from the anger-provoking situation.

Meditation and visualization — imagining oneself in a peaceful setting like a quiet forest, or watching a colorful sunset — can also help to defuse anger.

“Learning self-calming techniques — meditation, deep breathing, finding a calming memory or what is known as a happy place (are all important outlets),” Navarro said.

A variety of life situations can arouse anger, and the behavior of other people is often the cause of anger.

Learning conflict-resolution skills, or distancing oneself from toxic people when possible, can be important tools for managing anger.

In some circumstances, verbalizing feelings directly may be effective. Direct confrontation isn’t always advisable, however — especially when there is a good chance that the situation may worsen or escalate.

“You’re taking the risk of assuming that the other person is going to react in a certain way,” Navarro said. “If you’re talking about (confronting) somebody with a real anger-management problem, a confrontation is going to lead to an explosion.

“What you may want to do is to reframe things (in your mind) in a certain way that you can survive the person,” Navarro said. “Or (if possible), get away from them.”

Various types of losses, including the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the loss of self-sufficiency because of illness, injury or disability can cause anger.

The myriad of losses involved in an overwhelming crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic is a profound source of anger for just about everybody. Other various injustices that a person can be subjected to in the course of daily life can also cause anger.

Failing to achieve one’s goals — even if the goals are unrealistic to begin with — can be a source of anger. So can falling short of one’s personal standard of proper behavior and/or moral compass.

People who have experienced trauma or who have been victims of abuse may require long-term counseling to come to grips with the anger about what has happened to them.

People who possess a strong sense of social justice or decency may feel a righteous sense of anger when learning of the mistreatment or exploitation of others, especially the vulnerable and defenseless.

Anger can be a positive force when it inspires a person to make good changes — like taking action to help others, or to leave an unhealthy marriage, living, or employment situation.

“The person with the anger has total control to decide what they’re going to do,” Navarro said.

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