Why We’re Feeling So (Bleeping!) Angry… and What to Do About It

Why We’re Feeling So (Bleeping!) Angry… and What to Do About It

Americans are getting angrier. In June, the Washington Post published an article on the “anger incubator.” The New York Times had a story on “mom rage in a pandemic” in its July 6 edition. In April, Forbes published an article with the headline, “Beware the Global Anger Pandemic.”

The anger pandemic has arrived, and it is fierce.

With the threat of COVID-19 stacked on top of seemingly endless quarantine, job losses, and social unrest, fears and frustrations have erupted into a rage that is being unleashed at alarming levels. Social media feeds are filled with hateful rants—anger about having to wear a mask, anger at people who refuse to wear a mask, anger directed at governments and organizations, anger at those who are angry. At home, hot tempers, short fuses, and explosive outbursts are becoming more common.

At Amen Clinics during the pandemic, there has been an uptick in people seeking help to control the rage they’re experiencing or to ask for help for a family member whose anger has spiraled out of control.

THE RISKS OF UNRESTRAINED ANGER

Uncontrolled anger is detrimental in so many ways, negatively affecting relationships, physical health, and mental well-being.

  • Ruinous for relationships: Not only does it harm relationships and family dynamics, but it also negatively impacts physical health.
  • Higher risk of heart disease: A study in the journal Circulation found that people who are prone to anger have twice the risk of coronary heart disease than those who aren’t so angry.
  • Increased risk of stroke: Research in the European Heart Journal shows that people are at 3 times the risk of having a stroke in the two hours following an angry outburst.
  • Weakened immune system function: Anger also dampens the immune system, according to a 2016 study from Spanish scientists.
  • Decreased lung function: And research in the journal Thorax concluded that higher levels of hostility are associated with greater declines in lung function.
  • Increased anxiety: Findings from a 2012 study in Cognitive Behavior Therapy show that anger can worsen generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Linked to other mental health issues: Anger is also recognized as a symptom that is associated with several other mental health issues, including depression, ADD/ADHD, personality disorders, and substance abuse.

ANGER IN THE BRAIN

Anger issues can be a sign of trouble in the brain. In a study in the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, the research team at Amen Clinics performed brain SPECT imaging studies on 40 individuals who had physically attacked another person or destroyed property as well as on 40 non-aggressive people as controls. The SPECT scans of the people with aggressive behavior showed significant differences from the control group in several brain regions. These included:

  • Decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex. Low activity in this area is associated with poor impulse control.
  • Increased activity in the basal ganglia and limbic system. These patterns are often seen in people with anxiety and depression.
  • Temporal lobes abnormalities. More than 70% of the aggressive people had abnormalities in the left temporal lobe region of the brain. The temporal lobes are involved in mood stability, memory, and learning. Dysfunction here is associated with irritability, anger, and violent thoughts. Common causes of temporal lobe problems include genetics, head injuries, and exposure to toxins or infections.

6 ANGER MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES

The good news is you can control temper flare-ups even in the worst situations. The following 6 steps have proven to be helpful for many Amen Clinics patients.

  1. Know and focus on your goals. If you want to have a kind, caring, loving relationship with your spouse or children, write it down on a piece of paper and look at it every day. Then always ask yourself, “Does my behavior get me what I want?”
  2. Keep track of when you get angry. Write them down and learn as much about those times as possible. Know your vulnerable times, so you can learn from them and avoid them in the future.
  3. 5 x 2 = 10. Whenever you start to react in an angry or irritated way, get control of your breathing. Even before we are consciously aware of being upset, our breathing starts to become faster and shallower, making it more likely we’ll lose control of our behavior.  Whenever you start feeling irritated, take a deep breath (5 seconds in, hold it for 2 seconds, then slowly breathe out for 5 seconds). Repeat that pattern 10 times. This will give you plenty of oxygen for your brain to make a thoughtful decision.
  4. Make a list. Write and keep a handy list of 10 things you can do when you get upset in order to distract yourself. Distraction is a powerful anger management technique. Common distractions include taking a walk, calling a friend, saying a prayer, and doing a simple meditation.
  5. Play it out. Ask yourself: if you react in an angry way to the situation at hand, what will happen to your relationships, to your goals, to those you love? Think about immediate and long-term effects. Forethought is a strength of the human brain. Use it to keep yours under control.
  6. Seek help. If you’re having trouble controlling your anger, and it’s causing significant problems in your relationships or in your career, it’s time to get professional help. It’s worth investigating if underlying brain dysfunction is contributing to feelings of rage or anger related to mental health conditions.

Anger, anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

9 Comments

  1. hi, l am from uk [united ingdom ] due to family abuse i been a heavy drinker from 16 to 70 i have hated it [all father brothers alcoholic ] i am now trying to stop but i have read some where even when i stop drinking alcohol ,it will keep damaging the brain ,and alter brain cells, is there any thing i can do
    thank you gerald hogan

    Comment by gerald hogan — July 22, 2020 @ 4:19 AM

  2. To Gerald Hogan. Good work! I stopped drinking 2 years ago after 35 years. My mind works so much better. I can understand intricate concepts, do puzzles, and am MUCH less irritated. And. I remember peoples names at least half of the time now. My brain got better!

    Comment by Rose — July 22, 2020 @ 4:39 AM

  3. Hi Gerald,
    Wow my dad was also named Gerald and he was an alcoholic most of his life after many traumas. He never stopped drinking and died in his 70s from medical problems including liver cirrhosis. I wish I could have seen him get sober but that will never happen.
    You can do this! it will be a blessing to you and your family and friends. We have AA here in the states. Perhaps there’s a group over there? Or something equivalent. The support from former alcoholics might be a big help.
    Best of luck to you and you’ll be in my prayers. Take care,
    Dawn

    Comment by Dawn — July 22, 2020 @ 6:38 AM

  4. Gerald
    We have AA meetings here in California. If you go to the website. http://Www.centralaameetings.com We have zoom meetings all the time. There is a great meeting called serenity, it’s 3 times a day !!! 7am, noon and 7pm our time We however get a lot of people from the UK and Australia. Please join us. There’s usually about 100 people on this meeting!!!

    Comment by Tina — July 22, 2020 @ 8:24 AM

  5. Go to Alcoholics Anonymous. It affects the mind body and spirit . Work on releasing your resentments with the help of a sponsor and your Higher Power. This is a spiritual malady. It also has genetic predispositions but the solution is in finding a spiritual awakening and connection to your own version of God to remove the obsession while healing the deep hurts and past trauma. Let go and surrender…Good luck

    Comment by Terri — July 22, 2020 @ 8:30 AM

  6. Excellent article and so essential for our mental health! Once again, thank you so much for all you do!

    Comment by Diane Morse — July 22, 2020 @ 12:14 PM

  7. Hi Gerald congratulations. I Kathy offwr Christ to you. He is a Wonderful Savior. I speak from first hand experience with him. Twenty eight years ago I was suicidal and in so much pain. A pain I wanted to just stop. It’s a pain on cant describe. No it’s not a physical pain…..its like a inner pain….my soul was in pain. I never told anyone but God knew and he sent a co-worker who I hadn’t seen in years. We worked different tour on our job. When I saw her after 6 years on different tours. (I came back to the Day Tour after working the Midnight tour for 6 years). When I ran into her ahe was so excited to twll me that she had accepted Christ into her life and he had done Great things for her. She stopped smoking. God even saved her marriage. I was listening with my ears and my Heart at the same time. She told me that God haf fixed all her troubles. I was thinking if he did it for her he would do it for me to. I felt my heart telling me to go with her to church aftwr she asked me to come with her. She even sent her husband to pick me up. Wow….I never had been to a church where you could feel the presence of God so strong. It was as it I could reach out and touch him. He is so Real. I said Yes to the Lord and accwpted him as My Personal Savior. When I took the Heavenly Charge to become a member of my church the Lord apoke through my Pastor and told me I did not have to do what I was planning to do (commit suicide). It shocked me because I had nevwr told anyone my plans ao I know it was God talking to me. My life has changed for the better. Gos has done so many Miracles in my life since April 1992…..he Healed me of Carpel Tunnel….I had it bad in both hands and was about to have surgery on both hands.I still have the Surgical Referral in my nightstand……God didn’t stop there. He Healed me of Asthma….Fibroids (they were Real Bad…mI had many….Healed me of an Enlarged Heard 11 yrs ago…on usually does from this Im still here….3 years ago he Healed me of Cancer…..God is so Good to me and he wants to do the same for you….I just got finished praying and waa reading my e-mails….I was reading Dr Amens and came across your entry. I immediately felt I had to share my testimony to let you know Jesus is your answer and he is just a Prayer away. I will be praying your Strength and if you dont have a church I will also pray that you will find a Spirit filled church where the true Gospel is Preached. May God Bless you this Day…Stay Strong and Safe. God Bless You.

    Comment by Kathy — July 22, 2020 @ 12:24 PM

  8. I have same problem and 10 years ago. I don’t know if you keep damaging the brain or not but can tell you I feel better. It takes hard work on self . I am 70 and want to live every minute of my life even the ones where I don;t feel well. Once my brain cleared I have memories, some good some not but I want to remember it all. That is life. Good luck and never give up.

    Comment by Kathy — July 22, 2020 @ 4:53 PM

  9. Please look into ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS while you wait to hear from the Amen Clinic. You can Google meetings in your area. There should also be an information phone number. Talk to someone there to fill you in on what to expect. Good luck with your recovery.

    Comment by Catherine — August 3, 2020 @ 9:46 AM

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