Monitoring the state of the world has become an increasingly stressful task in recent years. Between violence, political frustration and natural disasters, we are hit with an onslaught of negative narratives. The nature of these stories and the 24-hour news cycle occurring across multiple platforms constantly bombards us. Trying to keep up with current events while taking care of oneself can be maddening. Unsurprisingly, in this climate, anger has become a constant companion for many of us. We are experiencing a higher baseline of anger and are more prone to outbursts.
Anger is an intense and powerful emotion but it can be difficult to process. In order to get to the root of how we can best channel our anger, let’s first explore what anger is.
Anger is a largely automatic response to pain stimuli which can be either physical, such as stubbing a toe or burning your hand on a hot stove, or emotional, such as experiencing a rejection or suffering a loss. The onset of pain ignites a chain reaction that leads to the release of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline (NICABM). These hormones serve to increase the rate of neural activity, dilate your pupils and increase heart rate, among other physiological effects. The anger neural pathway is an evolutionary vestige that helps us stay alert in dangerous situations.
However, when the stimuli are constant, anger ceases to help keep us safe and can become harmful. As we repeatedly trigger the release of cortisol, the overactivity of our neurons can lead to degeneration and slow the progress of neural regeneration, impairing our cognition and judgement and weakening our short-term memory. Moreover, cortisol impedes the release of serotonin, the hormone that causes happiness. This serotonin depletion not only depresses our mood, but also makes us more susceptible to anger and aggressive behavior. Thus, in such an intense political environment, our percolating undercurrent of anger dulls our happiness and causes us to be triggered by stimuli that typically would not illicit a strong (or any) reaction.
Now that we have developed a strong understanding of anger, let’s explore how to identify anger within ourselves and use it to fuel positive action.
One of the easiest ways to identify anger is through its physical manifestations. Take stock where you are holding tension in your body. Is your jaw clenched? Your fists? Your toes? Are your shoulders raised? Your brow? Anger can also manifest through fidgeting. Try to maintain stillness for a moment and notice your urges. Do you want to tap your feet? Crack your knuckles? Cross and uncross your legs? These can be physical manifestations of tension and anger.
Also, consider your recent actions and emotions. Have you been feeling anxious? Do you feel that you cannot think clearly? Have you been acting out? Have your reactions outweighed the response called for by the situation? These are clear indicators of anger.
Once you have identified your anger, the following steps can be helpful in processing it:
- Burn Off Stress Hormones: Hit the gym, go for a walk, ride a bike, stretch. As previously mentioned, stress hormones are toxic to the body in large quantities. Channeling these hormones into a physical activity will ease your state of heightened alertness and return balanced cognitive functioning.
- Consider the Pain Stimulus: Once you have reinstated your mental clarity, return to the cause of your anger. Was this a new stimulus or an everyday stimulus? Did it warrant the reaction it elicited from you?
- Uncover Deeper Emotions: Since anger only occurs in response to pain stimuli, it is frequently referred to as a secondary emotion, meaning that anger often acts as a mask for another negative emotion (MentalHelp). Take time to consider how your pain stimulus made you feel. Without unearthing and accepting the emotions that lie beneath our anger, we reinforce a pattern of unproductively defaulting towards it.
In times of environmental turmoil, it is paramount that we maintain our health. Anger is a clear demonstration that, to maintain overall health, we must tend to both mental and physical wellbeing. While anger can have deleterious effects, it is important that we do not fear our anger, but rather acknowledge it as a powerful indicator that we should return to self through self-care and introspection.