Anger Inoculation

Anger Inoculation

Anyone can become angry- that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, or the right purpose, and in a right way- it is not easy: Aristotle

Let's face it, we all feel angry many times for different reasons. You could be angry at a person whom you dislike, when you experience unjust treatment or if you have some unmet needs; for many, hearing criticism is an irritant, while others get angry at getting stuck in traffic or for having a delayed flight.

Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. Often times brooding on traumatic events or by being anxious about future events can anger us. Especially during these trying times anger display among humans seems to have escalated.

What is anger?

Anger is a natural, adaptive, and powerful emotion. It occurs in the presence of a threat or danger and varies in degree/intensity, from mild irritation to rage or aggression. It basically operates on the principle of survival, making it the most frequently occurring negative emotion.

When it comes to anger it is all about how you express it, and if it goes unchecked it has the capacity to break your career, relationships, and overall quality of life. Most of the time we use anger to our own disadvantage, as this emotion is usually triggered by trivial matters rather than significant ones, it does more harm than good to us. Anger is capable of making you its slave without you even noticing it, your life would be crumbling down and you wouldn't know 'why'.

Negative effects of anger

One might think that anger can make him dominant and superior and by bullying, screaming and by physical aggression h/she can get whatever h/she wants, but the truth is just the opposite. Anger upsets your self- image and reputation, scars other people's self- esteem and worth. In addition, it strains your peace of mind and of those around you.

Anger hampers reason and logic. When one is angry, he seldom listens to the statements of the opposite party and even if he does he misinterprets the message and gets upset even further. Anger also clouds judgment and emotional intelligence. The worst effect is that it puts you in a cycle of regret and remorse that is hard to break, just think how many have you regretted having said or done something when angry? Thinking now, you can do nothing about it.

Health effects

Frequent anger bursts take a toll on your physical and mental health. Chronic anger flames can make you more vulnerable to high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases (anger is known to constrict blood vessels and increase clotting, thereby triggering heart attack). Being angry double the risk of cardiac arrests in people already suffering from heart ailments. Constant outflow of stress hormones like 'cortisol' and 'adrenaline' excites the sympathetic nervous system which suppresses the immune system and triggers tension headaches. Furthermore, anger increases the risk of depression, isolation, insomnia, anxiety, chronic stress, and even suicidal ideation and attempts.

Anger rages are particularly harmful to growing children. Physical, emotional, and verbal abuse by a parent or guardian distorts a child's perspective of the world and shatters child's devotion and oneness towards elders. It should be seriously noted that this detachment is carried into adulthood, making it hard for them to establish and sustain romantic and other long-lasting relationships. In children, explosive anger leads to hyperactive, anxious and restless behaviour. Few may turn inwards by becoming isolative, reclusive, and avoidant, which further pushes them in the den of depression, low self- esteem, low self- confidence.

It is a fact that we cannot always control how things turn out to be, but this is not the end of it. Let us now divulge into some doable inoculation strategies to prevent and manage anger.

  • Willingness to change for the better: "Nothing is easy for the unwilling". Readiness to accept that you feel angry most of the time and understanding its impact on your life is a crucial step. Commit to improve yourself, this will empower you, bringing strength, motivation, and determination to make better changes. Restricted access to change will inflate your ego which will aggravate anger levels and its frequency. Without successful completion of this step, the below steps will be of little or no avail.
  • Talk it out objectively with a trusted family member or friend: Suggestions from people whom you respect and value can make a big difference. Many times there is an underlying negative emotion like sadness, disappointment, dissatisfaction, frustration, shame, guilt, hate, etc, which might be reasons behind your anger.
  • 'Be Aware' of your anger triggers: Anger like any other negative emotion is caused by our distorted thoughts, judgments, or prejudice. Try keeping a track of your recurrent angry thoughts, images and memories in a journal, and name it - the 'Anger thought monitoring record'. For instance, you might get various thoughts while stuck in traffic, while facing criticism at home or at the workplace or in an unproductive relationship. Also, use a 10 point scale to measure the degree to which you get angry at each thought. Knowing the operational relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors will bring clarity to the 'why' aspect of anger. Note: Download online Novaco anger scale to understand how you experience anger and what kind of situations might provoke you.
  • Mindfulness: Apart from being informed about your train of thoughts, recognizing physiological changes in response to anger can be of immense help. When faced with a provoking situation, take about 2-3 minutes to notice your breathing (find a seat if you can), heart rate, observe if your fists and jaws are clenched, or if there is any discomforting feeling in chest or stomach. Continue to stay with sensations as long as you can. Another best way is to ask yourself some mindfulness questions such as 'why am I angry?' 'What was I thinking a moment ago?' 'what just crossed my mind'? 'why am I having a physiological reaction?' 'Is my anger concealing other negative emotions like hurt, shame, guilt, sadness, trauma, insecurity?' 'what can I do to calm myself now? 'what other ways of approach are there?' these questions will give clues as to why you got angry in the first place.
  • Shun blame game: We all indulge in the blame game, it takes us nowhere near a solution to presenting problems. Few of the benefits of shunning blame games are, it makes one more productive and effective problem solver, increases focus and clarity, helps in learning new things, makes one more mature that enables one to take responsibility for one's actions and words), it also saves a lot of time and energy.
  • Try to objectively study your anger as a feeling: Bring gentleness and compassion to the feeling, accept that no man is perfect. Everybody requires a chance to explain and improve. As Epicurus said- "when you are offended at any man's fault, turn to yourself and study your own failing, then you will forget your anger".
  • Avoid using words like "never", should's", or "must's": Stop telling yourself statements such as- 'I am never going to make it or this is never going to end', 'I must be respected by all', I should be heard by everyone', I should succeed in everything I undertake, I should be able to solve any problem swiftly' etc. Instead try saying, Yes, it is frustrating, so what! it is not the end of the world, people might judge me because they do not know me, there is no need to personalize the issue. We all make mistakes that is how we learn and grow. Besides, getting angry won't solve the problem, it is only going to hurt my health and relationships. So let me not lose my composure and try to look at the alternative solution to the problem. The latter approach of using rational, calm, and positive statements will keep you in your best senses. Note: Be wary anger even when justified can trigger a Rolodex of irrational thoughts/cognitive distortions and irrelevant behaviors.
  • Know the difference between a reaction and a response: These words are used interchangeably but a closer look shows how different they actually are. A reaction is quick, harsh, and requires no much thought. It is mainly guided by the subconscious and unconscious mind with its assumptions, beliefs, biases, and insecurities. On the other hand a response is well- composed, slow and well- thought, it considers your well- being and of others. Responding puts you I control of your emotion and gives very little room for anger trigger to provoke you. Also, check the tone of voice and choice of words while responding. Listen calmly, try to understand the point of view of others in opposition, and do not worry much about whether you agree or not.
  • Visualize anger triggers in a hierarchy: Visualization of anger-inducing situations in your mind will help you train your anger response for the final expression. Start with a anger scene that makes you least angry and work your way u to the most annoying one. Keep checking for any physiological reaction that might occur this helps the brain to understand when to expect and tackle such changes.
  • Schedules of reinforcement approach: Reward yourself with your favorite activity (like shopping, eating favorite 'healthy' food, visiting a spa, or taking a break) each time you successfully manage your anger in the best possible way. This is particularly fun to do an activity with children, this also helps in regulating and shaping a behavior into a good habit.
  • Be assertive rather than aggressive: Assertive responses are calm and to the point. Assertions are free from abusive and intimidating words. Fairness, mutuality, and justice are central to it, and it is never about winning or losing. Anger should be managed to a certain degree before you make an assertive statement. Being conscious of your angry thoughts and misconceptions will help you make assertive statements.
  • Physical activity: Exercise alleviates anger, it helps burn up excess energy caused by anger. It is a great coping mechanism too. Engage in your favorite sport or any aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, 4 days a week to reap its benefits.
  • Beauty sleep: Have you ever noticed how irritable or cranky you feel the day you have had insufficient sleep? Yes, sleep is the reason behind your disarrayed mood. Good quality sleep is associated with healthy emotional regulation. It is vital to get good sleep daily. Sleep lowers your stress levels and detoxifies the brain, thus making you more stable, energetic, and amiable. Furthermore, avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, it not only disrupts sleep but makes you more prone to anger.
  • Relaxation and meditation: Detox with belly breathing exercises, guided meditations, progressive muscle relaxation, and cue- controlled breathing, choose whichever suits you best. These will assist you in understanding the difference between a relaxed and an agitated body state.
  • Yoga: Yoga has been proved to be a powerful tool to purify mind, body, and soul from the effects of STRESS which is a major anger trigger in itself.
  • Cleanse yourself of anger through prayer: Prayer helps calm down nerves. It is a type of meditation that you can do on a daily basis. Begin your day with a humble prayer for yourself, family, relatives, friends, BOSS, colleagues and even strangers. See yourself as a part of a large universe, in which you are just a speck, this thought will deflate ego and calm down riled up emotions. Today our world is engulfed in divisiveness, negativity, and bitterness, it is imperative to uphold the saying "Love for all, Hatred for none", which will surely enable us to abstain from anger, selfishness, and cruelty.
  • Join anger management programs: Despite all the above self- help strategies, if you still feel the task is overwhelming then please join individual or group anger management sessions with a professional. These sessions will provide you with toolkits that will make you ore self- aware and in good control of your emotion.

Practice and practice because anger is the toughest and trickiest negative emotion you will ever come across. Life may be filled with unpredictable actions, pain, and frustration, but there is always hope. Anger inoculation is a marathon rather than a sprint. Let us try to better ourselves, strengthen ourselves and become an excellent role model for future generations. As the saying goes " No man is free who is not a master of himself". So take your life back in control, inoculate yourself against negative emotions and live free. All the Best!

About the Author

Samar Hafeez
Psychologist and Certified holistic health coach.

Samar Hafeez is a consultant psychologist (clinical and counselling), who is pursuing her Ph.D in Psychology, She has a post graduate degree in Cli

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