Sudden explosive rage, whether from you or others, can be scary and damaging says Dr Mel Wynne-Jones
Everyone seems more angry these days – in public, on the internet and often in private, too. Anger is a normal emotion and helps to protect us, but, unrestrained, it can make us unhappy or aggressive and sabotage our relationships.
And if we’re the target of someone else’s anger, we may find ourselves treading on eggshells, or being emotionally or physically harmed by their behaviour.
Why do we get angry?
Toddlers throw tantrums, but as we get older, most of us realise that others have needs, too, and so we learn to compromise and express our feelings without losing control. However, stress, alcohol, drugs or feelings and reminders that we’ve been unfairly treated can trigger sudden outbursts that surprise and distress both ourselves and others. If we are conflict-avoiders, we may turn our anger inwards instead, leading to anxiety, depression or self-harm.
And some of us may be victims of bullying or domestic violence, as some people use anger to manipulate others, and may even blame us for ‘making them angry’.
What happens when we get angry?
We may gradually get wound up, or someone or something may suddenly ‘press our buttons’, making us feel stupid, ignored, ‘righteously angry’ or scared. Increasing levels of adrenaline raise our heart and breathing rates, blood pressure, muscle tension and sweating.
Our words, tone, face and body language may signal that we’re angry, until we either let fly or try to regain control. Longer-term, suppressed anger can lead to headaches, nausea, irritability and tummy upsets.
Recognise what’s happening inside, and avoid a meltdown by counting to 10, taking deep breaths, saying, ‘I can’t discuss this right now’, changing the subject or removing yourself from the situation. If someone else is angry, consider whether and how you should respond, help or get involved (see right).
Once you’ve calmed down, rerun the episode in your mind. If your anger was justified, could you have handled it better? Consider things such as time, place, words used, whether there should have been more or fewer people present, enlisting support or putting it in writing.
But if you don’t know why you ‘lost it’ or often overreact, then it could help to have counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (which helps us understand how our thoughts influence our actions). Your GP can refer you – some areas even have anger-management programmes.
Exercise and a healthy lifestyle can help you to de-stress, and you may need to avoid alcohol or other ‘triggers’ too. The Mental Health Foundation (mentalhealth.org.uk) has a useful downloadable booklet, Cool Down: Anger And How To Deal With It.
But if anger puts you at risk, or makes you violent or abusive, you must get help. Tell your GP, call the free, 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 200 0247; www.national domesticviolencehelpline.org.uk) or contact Respect for confidential information and advice (0808 802 4040; respectphoneline.org.uk).
4 ways to calm an angry persons
1. Don’t tell them to calm down, raise your voice or touch them – this may tip them over the top.
2. Keep your distance and check your escape route. If you feel threatened, leave or call for help.
3. Acknowledge their feelings or they’ll keep telling you. Say something like, ‘ I can see you’re really upset about this.’
4. Criticising, trading insults, making threats or generalising (‘you always’ or ‘I never’) may escalate the situation. Instead, ask them to explain exactly what’s wrong, and what they want/need.