By David Joel Miller.
How would you know when you’re angry?
Controlling anger is a problem for many people. Learning to recognize anger when you see it, find ways to avoid or reduce your anger and then to not anger yourself in the first place can all help improve your health and your relationships.
Whether you have been required to learn about anger, someone you know has an anger problem or you want to find ways to reduce and control your anger, there are techniques that will prove helpful. Less anger can also have positive health benefits.
If you have difficulty with your anger let’s start on a crash course in how to recognize the anger monster when he rears his head.
Anger causes physical changes – Your body tells you about anger.
Your body often responses to rising levels of anger way before you realize that anger is the feeling you are having. Think for a moment about how you experience anger and how you see it in others.
Do you feel hot or flushed? Does your blood pressure rise? Are their sudden onsets of “stress” headaches after which you discover you are feeling angry and resentful towards someone?
Changes in heart rate and in breathing are common as the body prepares for the flight or fight reaction that follows anger and hostility. Increasing anger also can trigger higher levels of anxiety in people with anxiety disorders. These fear, anxiety, and anger caused changes result in more blood flow to the muscles and less to things like digestion and rational thinking.
High anger is well-known to cause violence towards others but recently it has been recognized as a cause of self-harm also. Angering yourself, regardless of the provocation, can result in impairment of your physical health.
The result of anger is a flooding of the nervous system with stress hormones resulting in physical problems including, headache, digestion problems, abdominal pain, insomnia, skin problems, such as eczema, heart attack, stroke and many others. Not only does high levels of anger increase your risk of heart disease, anger can impede the healing process if you have suffered heart damage.
Anger can increase your blood sugar levels, especially a problem for those with diabetes. Another common reaction to anger is to begin to sweat. Uncontrolled anger can reduce your immunity and increase the risk of getting colds or flu. Some research has shown correlations between high levels of anger and cancer.
For people in recovery from substance abuse or mental health issues, anger can be a trigger for relapse. If you are in recovery or have uncontrolled anger, the cost of that anger, whether you show it or not can be unbearable high.
Watch for these physical changes in your body and you will make progress in recognizing the things that trigger your anger.
For more on the medical aspects of anger see:
Behavioral cues – Your anger autopilot.
Notice where your body goes without you during an anger episode. You may find that long before you realize you are getting angry you have clenched your fists, changed your body posture or had other automatic physical reflexes.
Pacing and wandering aimlessly may also be signs that anger is taking control of you. You may suddenly realize you have been staring off into space or otherwise zoning out. Many people when angry, find their voice has risen to extremely loud volumes without them being aware they are raising their voice.
Slamming doors, throwing things are also common manifestations of anger. You may begin to act badly even before you are aware you are angry. Some of these reflexes are biological but others have been learned based on how you learned about anger and how your anger experiences have unfolded as you grew.
Learning to spot these behavioral cues can make you an expert in recognizing the Anger monster.
Anger brings other emotions along for the ride – fear, hurt, jealousy, disrespect.
Anger overlaps and cohabitates with many other negative emotions. When you are angry you may also become fearful, anxious or begin having cravings for drugs or alcohol.
This coupling of emotions works in both directions. Anger triggers other negative emotions and those other emotions, especially pain, hurt and loneliness, can trigger angry feelings. Just before you became angry what feeling were you feeling? Jealousy, rejection, feelings of being put down or disrespected can all trigger an angry response. If your anger was preceded by feelings of guilt, shame or humiliation you may need to work on those other feelings to reduce the role of anger in your life. Frustration or impatience can trigger anger episodes.
Anger can also be a trigger for other mental health issues from dissociation to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
Anger hijacks your brain – self-talk, pictures in your head, plans of revenge.
What you look for you get more of. Angry people are constantly on their guard watching for signs they are being criticized. Is someone comments on the things you do are you taking it as devaluing you and your actions?
Once the thought storm begins to build do you see insults and injury everywhere? Do you work yourself up into a lightning storm looking for someone to fry? Many episodes of anger are preceded by a storm of thoughts, rumination, about why people shouldn’t do or must do this or that. If you begin to believe that everything people around you do has something to do with you the anger will rise.
Have you seen changes in yourself as the anger rises? Watching for these cues help you spot anger and work to tame this beast before your anger damages your life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books