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A little anger can be a good thing

September 14, 2016

How many times have you heard Donald Trump in one of his speeches say that “Americans are angry today?” But you don’t have to take his word for it.

A survey conducted by NBC News and Esquire magazine released earlier this year concluded that not only are Americans angry, but they are angrier today than they were a year ago. And it’s not just over politics.

“People are angry about many things today,” said psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Anfang at Baystate Medical Center.

Life Demands Too Much

“Maybe they’re angry because life demands too much of them, and it’s hard to cope. They may be overworked or unemployed. They may be angry due to financial pressures, relationship issues, family tensions, or many other factors,” said Dr. Anfang, who is chief of Adult Psychiatry at Baystate.

“We see their anger come out on the Internet, in road rage, at work, in relationship conflicts, displays of violence and many other manifestations,” he added. So, what exactly is anger?

“Anger isn’t a medical diagnosis, but it can be a symptom,” said Dr. Anfang. Anger or irritability might be a symptom of a psychiatric illness such as depression, mania, psychosis, or anxiety. It can also be a symptom of substance abuse or dependence. Also, anger can sometimes be unrelated to any diagnosable psychiatric illness, but a common reaction to a life stressor. The American Psychological Association describes anger as a normal, usually healthy, human emotion that can be expressed in many ways from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.

Some Anger Can Be Good

But, a little anger can also be good.

That energy can sometimes be positively re-directed, motivating you to make constructive changes in the world around you, at work or at home. Dr. Anfang noted an example may be people becoming more socially active in their community, trying to change things for the better.

When does anger turn unhealthy?

If anger leads to maladaptive behavior---significant interpersonal conflict, substance abuse to cope, violence towards yourself or others, behavior that interferes with your normal functioning at home or work----those could be warning signs to get further evaluation, and possibly treatment, noted Dr. Anfang.

Anger not only has a major impact on your personal, social and professional relationships, but can take a toll on your overall physical health. Dr. Anfang noted that poorly managed anger can result in heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and can even lower your immune system.

Managing Your Anger

The goal is to control your anger before it controls you. The Baystate Medical Center psychiatrist and the American Psychological Association offer the following tips on how to manage your anger:

  • Words can hurt. Angry people tend to jump to conclusions, however far-fetched. If you are in a heated discussion, slow down. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying. And take your time before answering. Instead of saying the first thing that comes into your head, think carefully about what you want to say.
  • Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing from your diaphragm and relaxing imagery, such as visualizing a relaxing experience from your memory or your imagination, can help soothe angry feelings. Consider non-strenuous, slow exercises and yoga, which can relax your muscles and calm you down. Also, try slowly repeating a calming word or phrase, such as “relax” or “take it easy” to yourself while breathing deeply.
  • Humor can help defuse rage in several ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective. Humor can also help when you find yourself being unreasonable. There are two cautions, however, in using humor. First, don't try to just "laugh off" your problems. Rather, use humor to help yourself face them more constructively. Second, don't use harsh, sarcastic humor. Such humor is just another form of aggression. What these techniques have in common is a refusal to take yourself too seriously.
  • Try to resolve what is bothering you by solving the problem. Sometimes anger and frustration are the result of very real and inescapable problems in our lives. Anger can be a healthy, natural response to these difficulties. Some people have a cultural belief that every problem has a solution. That belief adds to their frustration when they find out that this isn't always true. If you can't find a solution, focus on how to handle and face the problem. Make a plan and check your progress along the way, using a guide to organizing or time management if needed. Give it your best, but don't punish yourself if you don't find an answer right away.
  • Change your environment by giving yourself a break. Make sure to schedule some personal time during especially stressful parts of the day. Consider a brisk walk or jogging – physical activitiy is a great stress reliever.

 Learn To Forgive

“Most of all, learn how to forgive and forget by letting go of your anger and not holding grudges. It can make a positive impact on your emotional and physical health,” said Dr. Anfang.

If you continue to be overwhelmed by anger, consider seeking help. A good place to start is with your primary care provider. After your initial visit, your doctor might recommend getting further evaluation or treatment, including seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist.

“Remember that psychiatric and substance abuse disorders are treatable, help is available, and no one should suffer in silence,” said Dr. Anfang.