Anger can be an incredibly damaging force, costing people their jobs, personal relationships, and even their lives when it gets out of hand. However, since everyone experiences anger, it is important to have constructive approaches to manage it effectively.
Think of a situation where you have experienced anger, preferably one that no longer affects you in the present time. Can you recall the exact symptoms you experienced, and the way you responded to the symptoms? During your anger incident,
What symptoms did you experience
What was your response to your anger symptoms? Was your response helpful? If yes, in what way was it helpful? If your response was not helpful, in what way was it unhelpful?
While most are familiar with this emotion, not everyone is aware of its underlying dynamics. Anger is a natural emotion that usually stems from perceived threat or loss. It’s a pervasive emotion; it affects our body, thoughts, feelings and behavior. Anger is often described in terms of its intensity, frequency, duration, threshold and expression. Anger typically follows a predictable pattern: a cycle. Understanding the cycle of anger can help us understand our own anger reactions, and those of others. It can also help us in considering the most appropriate response.
The Trigger Phase: The trigger phase happens when we perceive a threat or loss, and our body prepares to respond. In this phase, there is a subtle change from an individual’s normal/ adaptive state into his stressed state. Anger triggers differ from person to person, and can come from both the environment or from our thought processes.
The Escalation Phase: In the escalation phase, there is the progressive appearance of the anger response. In this phase, our body prepares for a crisis after perceiving the trigger. This preparation is mostly physical, and is manifested through symptoms like rapid breathing, increased heart rate and raised blood pressure. Once the escalation phase is reached there is less chance of calming down, as this is the phase where the body prepares for fight or flight. The Fight or Flight theory, formulated by Walter Cannon, describes how people react to perceived threat. Basically, when faced with something that can harm us, we either aggress (fight) or withdraw (flight). It is believed that this reaction is an ingrained instinct geared towards survival.
The Crisis Phase: As previously mentioned, the escalation phase is progressive, and it is in the crisis phase that the anger reaction reaches its peak. In the crisis phase our body is on full alert, prepared to take action in response to the trigger. During this phase, logic and rationality may be limited, if not impaired because the anger instinct takes over. In extreme cases, the crisis phase means that a person may be a serious danger to himself or to other people.
The Recovery Phase:The recovery phase happens when the anger has been spent, or at least controlled, and there is now a steady return to a person’s normal/ adaptive state. In this stage, reasoning and awareness of one’s self returns. If the right intervention is applied, the return to normalcy progresses smoothly. However, an inappropriate intervention can re-ignite the anger and serve as a new trigger.
The Depression Phase: The depression phase marks a return to a person’s normal/ adaptive ways. Physically, this stage marks below normal vital signs, such as heart rate, so that the body can recover equilibrium. A person’s full use of his faculties return at this point, and the new awareness helps a person assess what just occurred. Consequently, this stage may be marked by embarrassment, guilt, regret and/ or depression.
Understanding the fight or flight instinct can help us understand the dynamics of our anger response. The following are some of the implications of the fight and flight theory on anger management:
First, the theory underscores how anger is but a natural response. There is no morality to anger. Anger is a result of perceived harm to self, whether physical or emotional.
Second, this theory reminds us of the need to stay in control. When we are angry, our rational self gets overridden by a basic survival instinct. There’s a need to act immediately. This instinct can then result in aggressiveness, over-reactivity, and hypervigilance, which are all contrary to rational and deliberate response. Conscious effort towards self-awareness and control is needed so that this instinct does not overpower us.
So, what are the helpful ways to help you deal with your anger?
It is important that you know how to recognize that you are angry, and give yourself permission to feel it. This can be as simple as saying to yourself “I am angry.” Remember, you can’t control something you don’t admit exists!
In the previous discussions, we saw how there is a biological reason why anger can feel overwhelming — our body is engaged in a fight or flight response. It helps then to defer any reactions until you have reached the return to normal/ adaptive phase of the anger cycle. Otherwise, you might end up saying or doing something that you’d later regret. Count 1 to 10!
This is the opposite to ‘keeping it all in.’ If a matter is important to you, so much so that keeping silent would just result in physical and mental symptoms, then let it out. If it’s not possible to speak to the person concerned, at least look for a trusted friend or a mental health professional.
Take ownership and responsibility for your feelings. This makes the anger within your control (you can’t control other people). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how we integrate anger management in our coaching solutions for corporations.