Anger is a normal emotion that allows us to deal with difficult, sometimes threatening situations, but when does it become destructive? Problem anger – the action of showing violent or self-destructive behaviour or having a pathologically aggressive nature – is one of the least well-managed mental health conditions among men, with studies showing that it is one of the main perceived causes of 64 per cent of violence against women.
At Wesley Hospital Kogarah, there has been an increase in the number of people presenting problem anger, which is often driven by personal stressors, such as death of a family member, job instability, relationship problems, and work problems. When coupled with a serious mental illness, such as alcohol dependence, these stressors can lead anger to escalate rapidly, often resulting in incidents of violence against an intimate partner or other forms of family violence.
As controlling this emotion is the first step to preventing these issues from arising, here are seven important tips for men to manage extreme anger:
- Recognise the early warning signs. Anger can escalate quickly – and you can lose your temper before you even know it. As you become angrier, you will experience physiological and cognitive changes, such as a faster heartbeat or getting hot in the face.
- Identify your triggers. Acknowledging what triggers your anger can help you avoid it in the future. This allows you to identify what you should do to alter your behaviour in certain situations. For example, being stuck in traffic may lead to road rage. Likewise, getting blamed for something you did not do, can lead to irritable, verbal outbursts.
- Reduce bodily tension. When you get angry, your heart and blood pressure increases and blood flow redirects towards the major muscle groups. Reduce this tension by doing muscle relaxation exercises by slowly tensing and relaxing each muscle group. Physical exertion, like running, also helps greatly.
- Withdraw from a potentially hostile situation. When you realise you are in danger of losing control, the best thing to do is to walk away from the situation. Doing so will prevent yourself from saying things you may regret or from becoming physically violent.
- Use distraction strategies. By diverting your attention to the environment around you, you can prevent aggression. You can also concentrate on something nearby in detail or count your breathing to avoid illogical thinking due to your anger.
- Challenge angry thoughts. When you’re angry, you often think negatively of the people around you and become angered by their actions. When this happens, ask yourself questions that challenge the truth and reasonableness of your thoughts. For example, is it productive to think badly of your spouse when they leave dirty dishes in the sink?
The Carousel would like to thank Dr John Kearney, clinical psychologist and Director of Psychological Services at Wesley Hospital Kogarah for his contribution.