It still amazes me how we don’t talk more about anger and its relationship to our mental health. I feel that everyone has a responsibility for their own mental health and isn’t just for people who have been diagnosed by their GP’s. I know that some mental health organizations are trying not to link the person’s mental health disorders with acts of violence in the news because of the negative connotation it carries for people with mental health issues who aren’t violent, but I somewhat disagree with that approach. I believe that senseless violence (?is there any other kind of violence?) is a result of a gross mismanagement of mental health. This may not be the most popular perspective, but let’s not avoid talking about the elephant in the room: if we don’t manage our mental health, violence is a possibility.
For example, back in April 2018 when the Toronto van crashed and killed 10 lives and injured 15 others, I viewed Alex Minassian (the man responsible) as someone who had deep issues with his mental health. Some might view that his actions should not be connected to mental health because that paints a violent picture of all people with mental health struggles. I feel that perspective is naive and irresponsible. Of course, I agree that not everyone is violent, but let’s face it, everyone has the capacity to be violent if they don’t manage their own mental health. Lastly, just because he struggled in managing his mental health does not make him any less accountable. They man should pay dearly for his actions.
OK, rant is over….
Over the years, I’ve learned that the key to my struggles with anger, depression and anxiety was that I couldn’t accept it. I was always on the defense, deflecting and blaming my circumstances instead of leaning into my pain. I eventually realized I couldn’t sit back and continue to live with it. I boldly concluded that I needed to do something about it.
Anger is such a powerful and invasive emotion, that if we don’t begin normalizing the dialogue, it will continue to do a lot of harm to our families and communities. Regrettably, there’s still so much violence taking place throughout the world as I mentioned, stemming from our egos, the burning need to be right when we argue, along with mismanaged forms of anger.
Anger has its consequences. Anger begets more anger and is often a symptom of greater mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.
Sure, there’s a lot of great ideas on how to manage anger, but it’s so much more than just taking deep breaths and screaming into pillows.
The best way to manage anger is to take a closer look at it.
Let’s take a deep dive…
#1 – Anger is a perfectly normal and healthy emotion
Anger is a perfectly normal emotion……in the event of real danger. That’s right, it’s perfectly normal to get angry as a defense mechanism and is triggered by the amygdala in your brain. If you’re getting attacked by a cougar for instance, you’re likely going to get angry and fight back!
#2 – Buried or Suppressed Anger can be linked to past trauma
But what if the danger is a lot less obvious and you still get defensive and angry…for example: Your friends at work are making fun of you because of the way you dress one day. Their intent wasn’t to harm you, but you still respond with anger. This incident could have been a subconscious trigger from a past trauma you experienced such as being bullied as a child or put down repeatedly by a caregiver.
#3 – Anger is a Secondary Emotion
If you peel the onion, you’ll discover that you typically feel another emotion prior to getting angry. Let’s take the example with the cougar. When it attacked, you likely felt fear at first, followed by anger when you eventually decided to fight back.
In a more common experience of anger, we might feel things like frustration, embarrassment, sadness or irritation prior to triggering anger. If we identify and tap into those primary feelings first, we have a much better chance at looking after our anger in a more constructive way.
There’s a wealth of information to be learned about anger and how it affects your mental health. Other than physical health issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease, mismanaged anger creates an unhealthy cycle with your mental health, often fueled by depression and anxiety.
And round and round they go:
…AND even greater depression.
Throw in a mix of anxiety in there, and it becomes a formula for some difficult days.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We all get angry from time to time and if we can learn to understand its root cause, solutions become much clearer.