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.
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.