Feeling angry is normal. It’s part of human nature. But what happens when you keep getting swept up in a Hulk-like rage for no reason? What’s triggering you, and why do you feel this way all the time? Here, two experts break down everything you need to know about your anger.
Understand the reasons for why you get angry
We all know anger isn’t exactly a fun feeling, which is why it often gets a bad rap. (And pop culture figures like Yosmite Sam, Squidward Tentacles, and the aforementioned Hulk don’t exactly help, either.) But psychotherapist Jothi Ramesh says it’s actually a healthy emotion that just gets misunderstood because it’s “always seen as something negative.”
“It is an emotion that is needed for the species to survive,” Ramesh, who owns J.R. Services Psychotherapy Centre in Scarborough, Ont., told HuffPost Canada via Skype. “You need to have the anger; you need to look at it as [signalling] something that is not comfortable for you.”
But even though anger is normal, it can get out of control. And the only way to manage it is by getting to the root of it.
“Knowledge is power — we can break a reactionary, out-of-control cycle of anger if we understand where anger is coming from,” Toronto psychotherapist Julie Freedman, of Anger Help, said in an email to HuffPost Canada. “Becoming aware of our anger triggers enables us to avoid a trigger if it’s healthy, or to prepare a strategy to cope if the trigger is unavoidable.”
Are there specific causes of anger?
Feeling powerless, threatened, or disrespected are the most common triggers for people, according to the National Health Services U.K. But for the most part, causes of anger vary depending on an individual and can be quite vast. For some, getting stuck in traffic can elicit feelings of rage, while for others, it’s when plans fall through or when they get mistreated at work.
So how the heck do you figure out what’s triggering you?
First, Freedman noted that certain risk factors for anger could make you lose patience and feel more irritable. The acronym HALT helps explain this. If you are Hungry, already Angry or stressed, feeling like you’re not being Listened to or heard, or are Tired, you could be at greater risk for anger, she explained.
If none of these are the culprit, Freedman recommends identifying “people (e.g. boss, family member), places (e.g. line-ups, traffic) or things (e.g. social injustice, philosophies, not following the rules)” that could be sparking your rage.
“I think people are very clear. They understand [their anger and triggers],” Ramesh added. That’s why it’s important for people to be honest with themselves and really “pay attention to what is it about a situation that’s frustrating for [them],” the psychotherapist said.
However, Ramesh knows that not everything is black and white. What can get complicated is understanding why you might have more or less anger in one situation, when you don’t generally react that way to that kind of situation, she said.
No, you aren’t angry for no reason
If you think you have unexplained anger, think again. Both Freedman and Ramesh agreed that there is always a reason for this intense emotion.
“Anger is armour — we go to it quickly to protect ourselves from other vulnerable feelings,” Freedman explained. “We might feel afraid or hurt first, but anger, a secondary emotion, will surface quickly. Stopping to ask ourselves what is under the anger (primary emotion) is another way to slow down and move from the fight-or-flight reaction to our reasoning part of the brain.”
When you aren’t sure what you’re angry about, or why you might have snapped unexpectedly, it could be that your anger is displaced, Ramesh also noted. It’s when you can’t express your anger towards a certain individual (e.g. your boss) or during a situation (e.g. in a public restaurant) that your anger will manifest in a different way towards something or someone else.
Simple techniques can help you stop getting angry
Know your triggers: If you’re aware of what’s sparking your anger, you’ll be able to take control of a situation, rather than let your emotions spiral out of control. “Rate your trigger on a scale of one to 10 and decide if it’s worth it to be angry,” Freedman advised. “Consider whether your anger is in proportion to the rating you’ve given to the trigger.”
Learn to breathe: There’s a reason our parents always told us to take deep breaths whenever we got worked up as kids. Freedman noted that breathing deeply can help calm you down by reducing your heart rate and the release of stress hormones. The moment this happens, we can also begin to think rationally about a situation, Ramesh added.
Use positive self-talk: This might sound silly, but your inner dialogue can really impact the way you feel. That’s why Freedman suggested talking positively to yourself, using phrases such as “I’m not going to take this personally” or “I know I can deal with this.” Re-framing the situation in your mind could also help, she noted.
Use a journal: If you’re trying to work out your anger, journaling can help, Ramesh advised. The act of writing out your feelings can help get the anger out of your system, so you can later go back to the person or situation that made you angry and address it from a logical standpoint.
Resolve the issue: Never leave an issue unresolved, Ramesh warned. Otherwise, anger and frustrations might accumulate over time. “You can agree to disagree, but at least do that,” she said.
When does anger become a problem?
It’s not rocket science. “People will tell you,” Ramesh said.
When anger becomes a problem, it can not only affect your personal relationships, but also your physical and mental health. Studies have shown that anger can increase your risk of a stroke and heart attack and weaken your immune system. Plus, it can also be linked to depression and anxiety (although anger itself does not constitute as a mental disorder, Healthline reports.)
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If you suspect your anger might be an issue, seek a therapist. “Otherwise, [your anger] will [turn] into verbal escalation, physical escalation and then you’re getting in trouble with the law,” Ramesh said.
For more resources on how to manage anger, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
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