Written by Dr Ashworth for Vitality Magazine: Psychologist and anger management specialist Dr John Ashworth explains why we might be prone to snaps of rage and what it means to have an anger issue.
Anger is a natural human reaction when we experience stresses and difficulties. However, anger can be problematic if it becomes a regular reaction – it can have a significant effect on our mental health, our behaviour and relationships.
A survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that 32% of people in the UK had a close friend or family member who has struggled to control their anger. For Anger Awareness Week (1-7 December), we ask counselling psychologist and psychotherapist Dr John Ashworth how to identify an anger problem and what to do when you feel anger rising…
How do I know if I have an anger issue?
“The frequency of feeling anger is perhaps a better indicator of whether you have a problem or not,” says John. “If you’re regularly prone to snaps of rage, find that others are repeatedly having to ask you to calm down, or are beginning to avoid you, it might be worth seeking help.” Going to see your GP is a good place to start. You could also try a local support group or call a support line.
Why is it that I’m more likely to get angry and irritated if I’m stressed?
“Your body releases adrenaline when you’re feeling stressed, and switches to what is known as the ‘fight or flight mode’,” explains John. “When this happens, you become vigilant to danger and can perceive situations as being more threatening than they actually are. Under these circumstances, you’re more likely to react with anger or hostility.”
What should I do when I feel anger rising?
1. Look out for warning signs
“Learn to recognise the warning signs when you feel your anger starting,” says John. “You might experience an increased heart rate, feeling hot or have some tension in different parts of your body. The more attuned you become to these, the better position you’re in to use strategies that can help you to calm down and prevent an outburst from happening.”
2. Give yourself time to think
“The ‘Time Out’ strategy means removing yourself from a situation that could lead to an outburst of anger. When you realise that one of your warning signs has been triggered, take yourself to a quiet space away from others. Stay there until the discomforting feelings have passed and you feel calmer.”
3. Try grounding yourself
“This can be another useful strategy for feelings of anger or anxiety, as it helps you to focus your mind on the present rather than negative thoughts. Sit down on a chair with your legs uncrossed. Begin to breath deeply from the diaphragm. Focus on where the soles of your feet meet the floor until you feel more settled and relaxed.”
Can social media contribute to our stress levels and anger?
“Ironically, social media can lead to many of us feeling excluded or isolated. More commonly, it can leave us with a misconception that other people’s lives are better than our own,” says John. The degree of anonymity can also mean there is no filter on hurtful comments and conversations.
“These conflicting feelings can be difficult to tolerate and we might feel anger as a defence mechanism. However, this only serves to compound the outlined distress.” Try giving yourself a digital detox every now and again.
Can my anger affect others?
Anger can affect those closest to you, from your partner and family members and close colleagues. “It can make people feel threatened, upset or distressed,” advises John. “Often, our anger encourages feelings in others that they’re trying to avoid themselves – perhaps their own fears and vulnerability.” When your anger is affecting your relationships, it’s important to try to seek help.
What help is out there for anyone with an anger problem?
“One-to-one counselling or group therapy can help you to understand the problem as well as learn ways to manage your anger,” advises John. “Other techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can also prove very helpful.” Visit Mind for talking treatments, anger management programmes and help for violent behaviour.
How do I help someone else with an anger issue?
The stigma surrounding anger can cause people to avoid seeking help, so confronting someone can be very difficult.
“If you feel someone has an anger issue, it’s helpful not to be accusational,” suggests John. “Wait until the angry person is in a calm state before you discuss their anger with them.” Think about the language you use and perhaps start the conversation by describing how you feel, such as ‘I feel very upset when you react the way you do.’
“Ultimately though, the person with the anger issue will want to resolve the difficulty and your intervention could make all the difference.”