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Anger


Do you regularly see red? Or perhaps you find yourself at the other end of the spectrum and think to yourself “I’m not an angry person”. Either way, this blog is for you. The first think I need to tell you is that EVERYONE gets angry. It is not a ‘bad’ emotion. Indeed, as with all our basic emotions, anger provided a survival function for our ancestors. It spurred them to defend and fight if food/shelter/a mate was scarce.


Anger activates the limbic system. This sends a message to the amygdala which then alerts the hypothalamus to release adrenaline and testosterone through your adrenal glands. Essentially, this primes the body for aggressiveness. As humans have evolved, this response also activate the pre-frontal cortex. This is the area of the brain that is responsible for trying to moderate your response. The effectiveness of the pre-frontal cortex to put the brakes on your anger response is going to depend on how much work you have done on yourself, but more on that later.


As I said, anger is not a negative emotion. In fact, it’s a very useful signal that tells us that something in our environment is upsetting, stressful or unfair. It suggests to us that we need to change something in our environment to function optimally. However, our anger triggers may arise due to a fault in our perception. Causes of anger can include unrealistic expectations, misunderstandings or feeling threatened.


Addressing anger in addiction recovery is important because anger increases the risk of relapse (for example think about holding onto resentments). For some people it will be a mis-management of anger that drew them into addiction in the first place. The National Centre for Biotechnology Information found individuals with high levels of anger are more likely to develop addiction. Drugs and alcohol are often used as a means of numbing or dampening anger and these feelings, which may have been anaesthetised for years, could begin got resurface in recovery. Without acknowledging and processing anger you could just end up back at square one. Angry individuals are less likely to finish treatment; they’re frustrated, may have unbearable thoughts or feelings and are prone to picking holes in everything. For long-term recovery one needs to access, express and own their anger to release mental and emotional pain.


How do we identify anger? Most people are familiar with the classic eruptor style of anger. This is the explosive, loud and aggressive anger response. However, many people don’t erupt in this manner. They might not think they even possess the ability to get angry at all. This is a sign that you might have repressed anger, which is anger that is unconsciously avoided or pushed down. This is different to surpressed anger which is pushed away consciously, for instance if it would inappropriate in a particular moment to express your anger you might bite your tongue and take a few deeps breathes. Instead, people who repress anger aren’t even aware they are doing so. For these individuals, feelings of anger could have taken on other connotations like shame or fear, or they want to ignore the presence of the trigger. Perhaps you come from a culture or family where anger was not allowed or acceptable, or you grew up with the message “children should be seen and not heard”. Or you might associate anger fear or danger if you had an aggressive parent. Repressed anger could even be a form of people pleasing, because nice little boys and girls don’t get angry.


Over time, repressing your anger can cause anxiety, depression , low self esteem, psychosomatic pain, interfere with your relationships, increase blood pressure, cause insomnia, decrease concentration, you may become numb to all emotion and of course, addiction. Here is a looooong list of signs that you might have repressed anger:


  • Defensive

  • Heart rate & bloodpressuree increase

  • Restlessness

  • Never feeling angry, but often feeling sad or depressed

  • Overuse of sarcasm or cynicism

  • Being uncomfortable with conflict or confrontation

  • Overusing distraction or avoidance to cope with difficult emotions

  • Becoming defensive when accused of being angry

  • Feeling the need to control many things in your life

  • Experiencing chronic muscle tension or headaches

  • Feeling uncomfortable when others share intimate emotions with you

  • Being passive-aggressive when you interact with others<

  • Having difficulty setting boundaries, standing up for yourself or saying no

  • Shutting down, avoiding people or isolating yourself when upset

  • Becoming explosive when you do find yourself angry

  • Complaining often when things don’t go your way

  • High levels of chronic stress or anxiety

  • Frequent negative or self-critical thoughts

  • Feeling bitter, envious or resentful of others

  • Ignoring things that bother or upset you rather than addressing them

  • Holding grudges and ruminating on things that upset you

  • Feeling guilty, ashamed or bad when you are angry


So, hopefully you now have a pretty good idea about how and where anger is – or isn’t! – showing up for you but what can you do about it? Whilst anger can be perfectly healthy, if we don’t know how to process it there can be some pretty negative side effects. I have compiled eight suggestions of how to deal with anger and to be honest, these strategies are going to be useful for any adverse emotion you are experiencing. These don’t have to be done in any particular order and you can practise the ones that come easier to you first. Though the more of these tools you use the better regulated you will able to keep yourself.


1. Understand Where Your Anger Is Coming From

Like other emotions, anger is often an indicator that there is a problem you need to address.

Work to better understand your anger by thinking about times in the recent past when you have become angry, and by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. How did you know you were angry—what changed about your thoughts, feelings, actions, and bodily sensations?

  2. What do you think triggered your anger in that situation?

  3. What about that situation upset or angered you?

  4. Why did that bother you so much?

  5. What was your anger trying to tell you about what you wanted, needed or cared about?

2. Track Anger in Your Body

Becoming more aware of your anger can help you identify some of the early anger cues you might have missed in the past. A growing body of evidence suggests that we store emotions in our bodies, which is often where people notice early signs of anger.5 In stressful situations, “tune in” to your body and pay attention to what sensations, tension and changes you notice.

Some of the more common ways that anger shows up in the body include:

  • Chest tightness

  • Muscle soreness

  • Fatigue

  • Increased heartbeat

  • Upset stomach

  • Dizziness

  • Headache or migraine

  • Weak limbs

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Muscle tension


3. Start Journaling

Journaling helps to foster self-awareness. Research also shows that journaling can improve your overall well-being and decrease depression and anxiety symptoms, which are common in people who repress anger.

To make this habit successful, it’s crucial to establish a routine. Try to journal around the same time each day, and make sure to journal about your emotions. Some people benefit from having prompts to help them. Just make sure to not overthink what you write.


4. Interrupt Angry Thoughts

Even if you struggle to identify anger, you might readily identify negative thoughts that feed into feelings of anger. Eg. thinking that you’re stupid, worthless, or unlovable when you make a mistake, or you may beat yourself up over it. You might unconsciously do the same to others, noting all of the things another person is doing that upset you.

The more you repeat these kinds of negative thoughts in your mind, the angrier and more upset you will become. The next time you notice yourself in a downward spiral, try to catch yourself and imagine pressing “pause” in your mind. Bring your full attention to what you can see, hear, or feel right now. DO AN ABC!

The more focused you are on the present, the less you will be able to ruminate on thoughts that feed into anger and other difficult emotions.


5. Find a Physical Outlet for Your Anger

Anger is a high-energy emotion that can be stored in the body, so learning how to use your body to release the anger can help you regulate your emotions. Exercise and being physically active all help to release stress hormones and balance the chemistry in your brain, helping you feel calmer and more relaxed.


6. Practice Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation help reduce stress, promote relaxation, and boost mood, and can also help you quiet some your racing thoughts. Mindful people have higher cognitive performance, improved empathy levels and make better decisions, even when they are angry or upset.

Many people believe they need to commit to a perfect meditation practice, but mindfulness can be practiced in many ways that don’t interrupt your routine, you can even practice it as you sit here now.


7. Use I-Statements

Repressed anger can sometimes come out via passive or passive-aggressive communication, but I-statements help you communicate assertively. I-statements help you express your needs, even when you are upset. Unlike being aggressive, an I-statement protects the feelings of other people, allowing you to express yourself without being disrespectful. Think about what you have learned in NVC groups, express your feelings not your opinions.

I-statements require taking ownership of your reactions. The formula is simple- when interacting with someone, use the script, I feel ____ when you ____ and I would like _______. This method allows you to communicate how you feel and what you would like for the other person to do differently. Unlike a “YOU” statement, I-statements diffuse blame. Instead of attacking the other person (which often results in them becoming defensive), you’re offering them a reasonable opportunity to respond.


Lifestyle Changes

Implementing better self-care and making adjustments to your usual routine can improve symptoms of repressed anger. Self-care involves activities, skills, and supports that help people reduce stress and meet their emotional needs. This includes meeting your basic needs like eating well and getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night, as well as making a point to take breaks and develop more work-life balance. Also, remember to stay connected to people who care about you that you feel you can open up to and rely on for emotional support.

This has been a rather long post and there is much more I could tell you about anger, but I hope this initial overview has given you a good insight into how to recognise and process anger effectively.



“You cannot see your reflection in boiling water.

Similarly, you cannot see truth in a state of anger”

-Anonymous-

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