Your second grader wouldn’t stop interrupting you while you were on a video conference call (which kept lagging). Then your grocery delivery got cancelled — and you have no bread, eggs or milk left. And, to top it all off, it’s pouring rain and you can’t go out for a run simply to get out of the house. Let’s just say you’re fuming.
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If you feel like you’re more agitated these days (which all seem to blur together), you’re not alone. A recent poll found 84% of people surveyed believe Americans are angrier today than they were a generation ago.
We talked with psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, about whether anger is really on the rise — and strategies for keeping your anger under control.
Q: Does anger serve any purpose?
Dr. Bea: Some of us maintain high levels of anger. We’re throwing objects. We’re keeping it in to ourselves. It has negative effects on our body, our brains, and probably the way we perceive our lives.
In other instances, anger is a really useful emotion. It’s a way we set limits. If somebody’s infringing on our rights, we use that sentiment to create barriers to try to utilize assertive efforts in an effort to protect ourselves.
Q: Is anger really on the rise in society?
Anger is frequently driven by the perception of threat. And we have a tendency to perceive things as more dangerous today (than they actually are) because of the persistence of media and news.
Difficult things still happened in earlier generations, but they weren’t as highly publicized.
Q: So how do we deal with our anger better?
We don’t talk about anger much. We don’t teach how to recognize or deal with it. And anger is a reflexive emotion, so it can be hard to proactively manage it.
When our emotions are inflamed, logic and reasoning kind of go to the wayside. And when we’re really anxious, small provocations and upsets can really throw us over this threshold where we’re now feeling anger and maybe behaving angrily.
If we can work on our awareness — knowing how our minds and body react when we become angry — we can get better at controlling our anger. Because whether we have a short fuse, or we’re the type of person to bottle up our anger, we are the ones who pay the price.
It’s good to work on our ‘emotional shock absorbers,’ either through self-awareness or with the help of a professional. This can help us become more resilient, without getting too agitated.
Another way to help control our anger reflex is to give it a name — by labeling what is making us angry.
If we can actually label it, or name it, very carefully, that expression is called anger granularity. The more refined and precise we can be about what’s creating our anger (or the source of our anger), we can generally break it down into more bite-sized pieces. We may feel a little less daunted by it, or even have the possibility of bringing some humor to the experience.