Anger - it boils, it burns, and it can be the most difficult emotion to control. Let’s be honest, we’ve all had those moments of absolute, uncontrollable rage, where you just want to throw something at a wall or scream into a pillow. It’s a physical emotion, associated with violent outbursts and,perhaps most unfortunately, with masculinity.
This issue of All The Feels will tackle the issue of anger - why we feel it, what it does to our body,and most importantly, how to control and channel it in healthy ways.
Anger is a strong feeling of annoyance or hostility; it’s associated with irritation, frustration, rage and resentment. It’s a natural and innate response, evolutionarily built into us as a way of knowing our physical needs aren’t being met. This is why we are usually more prone to anger when we’re tired or hungry.
Aggression is the physical expression of this emotional state, often in violent or hostile ways. It can be either physical or verbal, from harsh words to throwing punches.
There are several mental health issues which are associated with outbursts of anger or aggression, sometimes grouped together as anger disorders. In these cases, excessive anger or aggressive outbursts may lead to the diagnosis of these conditions as a root cause of the behaviour. Among the most common are Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (although, it should be noted that ADHD may not present violent symptoms at all, especially in girls), and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. IED is an impulse disorder, meaning that it stems from the inability to control existing emotions of anger, leading to outbursts which are out of proportion to the stimulus of the emotion itself. These disorders should not be equated with the feeling of anger, or even the expression of aggression - however, they are examples of how behaviour labelled violent or antisocial is often rooted in anger, and difficulty in emotion regulation.
To look into the neuroscience of anger, we’ll again be revisiting our good friend, the Limbic System(in case you don’t remember, that’s the brain’s emotional centre). The stimulus - which might be a YouTube video that won’t stop buffering, or anything Donald Trump says - is picked up through the senses and interpreted by the amygdala. Remember that little guy? While the prefrontal cortex is doing all the decision-making, thinking and judgement, the amygdala really has no concern for Consequences. When presented with a situation that calls for anger, the amygdala will override the cortex in an event known as amygdala hijacking, and it’s why in outbursts of anger we are often unable to think critically or examine the circumstances in a logical way.
From here, a message is sent to the endocrine system to release hormones like testosterone and adrenaline (and, yes, girls do have testosterone too, just as boys have oestrogen). Meanwhile,neurotransmitters called catechlotamines are being released by the brain, which causes a burst of energy lasting several minutes - this is why we often feel like hitting something when we’re angry,as a way of expressing this excess energy. As a result of these hormones and neurotransmitters,heart rate and breathing rate increase as the circulatory system distributes more oxygen to the muscles around the body to prepare us to fight whatever the threat may be. In this way, the physical response to anger is a bit like fight or flight - just, without the flight.
There’s also a winding down period after the initial buts of energy, which tends to last 20 minutes.The hormones are still not entirely out of our system yet, so minor stimulus may cause another outburst when it usually wouldn’t bother us. This is why the classic strategy of counting to 10 often doesn’t work - while it may draw focus away from the emotional response for a bit, slowing breathing and allowing the cortex to take charge, our arousal is still increased. It’s only after that 20 minute period that we can become clear-headed enough to make decisions which are unaffected by anger.
THE TEEN EXPERIENCE
It’s hard to deny that in our modern society, the healthy expression of anger is a gendered issue. This is largely due to the pressures of gender roles and the stereotypes of emotions in our media. This is true of other emotions too - for boys, it is considered normal and expected to repress sadness. In a similar way, girls are expected to repress anger, or express it in non-confrontational ways, like crying or the classic Silent Treatment. Conversely, it’s considered a measure of masculinity to express anger through physical violence. It’s been theorised that this social pressure for boys to express anger through violence in order to assert dominance and masculinity is a reason for the prevalence of domestic violence and shootings (especially from what we’ve been witnessing lately from the US).
This is not at all to say that all boys are violent or angry, or that all girls are sulky and demure.These stereotypes are the result of the expectations we’ve been brought up with. Though there are biological factors at play, anger is ultimately a human emotion, and there are healthier ways for all genders to see anger.
DEALING WITH ANGER
Anger doesn’t have to take over, and as cliché as it sounds, controlling anger usually starts with a deep breath. Grounding yourself can take many forms, depending on what calms you down best. It might mean removing yourself from a certain situation, and replacing the stimulus with something like writing, drawing or exercise.
Of course, listening to music is also a great way of managing anger, and not just calming music either. Research has shown that “angry” music, like heavy metal, can have positive impacts on mood and reduce the feeling of anger or expression of aggression. It really depends on what kind of music you use to unwind.
Talking it out is also useful - if there isn’t anyone around to talk to, or you’re worried about reacting with hostility, there are helplines and online chats you can use to discuss the root of the feeling. Anger doesn’t always have a clear cause, and this is when it’s the most frustrating and confusing.If anger is a frequently recurring emotion in your life, don’t sit on it; talk about it.
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