The Anger Bubble: To Burst or Not to Burst?

Psychologists believe that anger isn’t all bad, but before we can befriend it, we need to understand it.

Credits: Andre Hunter

May 26, 2022

Out of the varied emotional challenges that we encounter on a daily basis, it is perhaps anger with which we struggle to cope the most.

It can be assumed that this struggle lies in the intensity of the temptation that anger presents, for it is not the expression of anger that is the problem for us, but its resistance. Expression of anger comes to us naturally and rather effortlessly. Anger, it seems, gets a hold of us before we can get a hold of it.

But why is that? What is it about anger that makes us lose control of ourselves?

Let’s try to understand anger better, and tame the animal that it is, rather than meeting it in attack mode!

According to the American Psychological Association, “Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.”

But anger can be a good thing (sometimes). It can give you a way to express negative feelings, for example, or motivate you to find solutions to problems. But excessive anger can cause problems. Increased blood pressure and other physical changes associated with anger make it difficult to think straight and harm your physical and mental health.

The salt and pepper qualities of anger mentioned in this definition make it clear that anger isn’t all bad. But before we can befriend it, we must understand it.

Credits: Tengyart

According to Dr. Spielberger, a specialist in the study of anger, “Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.”

The reaction of anger within our bodies is of particular relevance to our relationship with the emotion. When faced with an anger-inducing stimulus, our blood pressure and body temperature rise, breath rate and heartbeat accelerate, and owing to this taxing process, our resources become occupied in generating this response. Our body does this to indicate its uncomfortable, and sometimes threatened state to us.

Anger’s physiologically demanding reaction also takes away our adaptive system’s focus from rationality and logic, therefore resulting in our “disproportionate” responses to apparently “mild” triggers.

This could include getting stuck in traffic, someone leisurely deciding their order at a coffee shop while we wait in a line behind them, and many other everyday instances.

So how does one go about their quest to resolve their anger problem?

Here too, one of the answers lies in the body itself. Monitoring our physiological response can help us monitor our emotional experience of anger!

While we can’t control our blood pressure, temperature, and heartbeat directly, we can influence all of them by controlling our breath.

Credits: Lasma Artmane

Among the most effective techniques of breathwork are deep-breathing exercises, picturing a calming place from memory or imagination, and yoga. However, these methods will work only when practiced daily.

It is only through our commitment to them in normal situations, can we ensure they work in tense ones.

Other than physiological solutions, studies have found cognitive solutions such as reappraisal to be just as impactful! A huge part of how we experience an emotion and express it depends on our evaluation or appraisal of the triggering stimulus.

This is to say that the more we perceive a particular situation as significant to ourselves, the more intense our emotional response will be.

Therefore, in the case of anger, our response to it can be regulated to the extent of how effectively we reappraise the situation as one that doesn’t mean much to us, that is, distancing ourselves from the moment, and what it brings.

This process too is one that demands practice, and can in fact, be achieved more tangibly with the help of the above-mentioned physiological solutions!

These two strategies, however, do leave scope for the following question: Is anger not meant to be expressed at all?

The answer is: it is (but conditions apply).

Anger helps us fight off threats and has an adaptive quality at its very essence. However, the uninhibited expression of anger causes great harm.

Moderating our anger response is key and includes directing our anger at sources other than the ones that caused it. In the immediate sense, this could mean journalling our experiences or committing to a rigorous sport or physical activity that helps our body release tension.

In the long-term, anger tells us that something needs to change. It can therefore be channelled to identify problems and set achievable solutions to them.

Essentially, our anger’s not the beast we make it out to be. On the contrary, it has the potential to transform us into more mindful beings!

Author: Samreen Chhabra works as a Senior Research Fellow at Jindal Institute of Behavioural Sciences