Have you ever felt that you are one traffic jam away from a meltdown? Or that the boss’s or the family’s latest idea has pushed you to the brink of a rage-induced frenzy?
The happy fact is that you are not alone.
We often come across situations where our mild-mannered self gets challenged and the calm and composed persona gives in to a new angry persona like Hulk. (Hulk is the ferocious alter version of a gentle scientist in Marvel comic series.)
Anger, despite getting a bad rap, to an extent, can be a healthy and an almost natural or acceptable response to certain situations. However, uncontrolled anger for an extended period can have long-term negative effects, says Dr Sudeeptha Grama, counsellor and founder of Bengaluru-based mental health help centre, the Coffee Shop Counsellor.
Anger and health
Anger increases one’s heart rate, blood pressure and releases energy or aggression hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin – which is certainly bad news for our health, says Dr N G Kanchan, consultant physician and diabetologist, Specialist Hospital, Bengaluru.
The extreme amount of stress that comes with anger also makes one susceptible to heart diseases, diabetes, and a weakened immune system, she adds.
In the long run, anger affects one’s mental health. It clouds one’s judgement and makes it difficult to focus on everyday matters. It could even contribute to depression, she says.
As for one’s social life, picking a fight with someone will only alienate one from social circles. In personal relationships, too, extreme anger can dent people’s trust in us and can be damaging to children, says Dr Grama.
Stages of uncontrolled anger
Psychologists list three stages to getting angry
- Escalation phase: when one knows that one is getting outraged. One can make out the ‘symptoms’ that can be physical, emotional, behavioural or in one’s thoughts.
- Explosion phase: involves violent behaviour or a sudden outburst of anger, where the person reacts out of proportion to a situation.
- Post-explosion phase: This comes after the display of verbal or physical aggression. It could include feelings of guilt, shame and regret and may affect relationships.
The trick is to control the anger in time and prevent it from escalating.
The telling signs
Umang Sheth is the founder of Gay Bombay and a mental health support group, the Hugging Club of India, which counsels men in same-sex relationships and people who support them. He says these people face several challenges and many members of the two groups have dealt with anger or rage, even amounting to rage, at some point in their lives.
Sheth points to tell-tale signs that say one is uncontrollably angry
- pounding heart
- clenching the jaws and stomach
- flushed feeling
- tension in the shoulders
- restlessness and a need to walk about
Some tips for managing anger
- Focus on how the body feels: This will make you aware of the symptom and help you to calm down. Breathe deeply. Fresh air is calming, improves heart rate and blood pressure and shifts the focus from anger, says Dr Grama.
- Get moving: Take a brisk walk to let out the frustration, says Dr Ravindra, a psychologist at the Mind Research Foundation in Bengaluru. Movement releases bodily tension.
In general, he suggests taking up any daily exercise as it has many benefits apart from keeping anger in check. Any form of workout has the potential to reduce frustration and increase tolerance. Fresh air and exercise clear the mind and equip one to face the situation in a reasonable and positive way, he adds.
- Cheat the senses: Look at a different scene, image or something funny. Listen to music. Indulge the taste buds with coffee, a bite of chocolate or a hot beverage. Play with a child or a pet – it is known that pets bring down stress hormone levels. All this immediately diverts the focus from the situation causing anger, according to Dr Grama.
- Change the setting: Move around and change the surroundings frequently in a day. This helps you to get a perspective, review and approach a troubling situation calmly and practically. Research has shown that time-out reduces aggressive behaviour.
- Analyse and try to solve the problem: What is the exact reason for the anger? Figure it out and try to resolve it, says Dr Ratandeep Singh, a psychologist based in Hyderabad. Anger does not solve a problem. If a solution is not visible, try to let go of the issue and move on.
Better still, forgiving a wrong or offence done by others also plays a vital role in releasing anger, he adds.
- Cut alcohol and drugs: Liquor and narcotic substances perpetuate stress, lower our inhibitions and fuel anger. Too much caffeine also makes one irritable and susceptible to anger.
- Confide in a trusted person: Talking it out eases stress. Seek others’ suggestions to your problem where possible, says Dr Ravindra. Sharing a hug with a close person releases positive, mentally uplifting hormones in the body.
- Journal the thoughts: This is an organised way of calming oneself down. It helps one to think clearly, sort out the issue and could show a solution, says Dr Grama.
- Express the anger: And in a constructive way. Having a mature conversation either with the person who is perceived as the cause or with a confidant/e can release stress and prevent further problems.
- Count down: Count backwards from 10, says Dr Singh. This is known to reduce anger and stress. This activity distracts the mind from the anger-inducing situation and slows one’s heart rate.
- Turn anger into energy: Turn that energy into something healthy and productive. One could help a stranger, write a petition, work for a stirring cause or simply try some dancing or painting. If these techniques to manage anger do not help, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional.