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“Anger a survival emotion,” says Ravi Samuel, a psychotherapist. He discusses aspects of this powerful emotion such as its source, impact and management.

What would you define as anger?

Anger is an emotion of varying severity from irritation to intense fury. This is accompanied by physiological arousal to respond verbally or physically. Anger impacts a person psychologically, impairing the ability to think rationally and logically.

Anger and temper: are they the same?

The word ‘Temper’ is referred to susceptibility of a person to get angry. When a person is described as having ‘a good temper’ it means that he or she is not likely to get angry even under provocation.

What is the source of anger?

Anger is caused by the interpretation of external events as insult to dignity of self or others and it can intensify due to repetitive of thoughts about the event.

Biologically amygdala (feeling brain) is said to experience emotions first and the thalamus (thinking brain) responds much later, after the reaction of amygdala. Hence the guilt/ remorse sequel to an angry outburst. When a person is angry he/she may \ tend to indulge in verbal expressions and physical acts, which he/she would never do if not angry.

Are we becoming an angry society?

Stress, interpersonal conflicts and break down of relationships can have adverse reaction in some people and it can present in the form of ‘poor anger control’ Perhaps people in most societies are under greater stress today.

Is anger a personality thing?

Certain personality types like ‘Type A’ are likely to be more vulnerable to anger, more because of the tasks they undertake and the kind of stress they experience.

Do angry parents pass on anger to children?

Anger can be influenced by genetic as well as social circumstances.
Children of parents who get angry have been found to be irritable, touchy and easily angered from a very early age. People coming from disturbed family backgrounds (disruptive, chaotic, unsatisfactory relationships, frustrated etc) may have poor control over their anger, but this need not always be so.
There have been studies, which demonstrated that there is a genetic predisposition for the offspring also to be ‘hot headed.’ Besides, children can learn ‘anger’ from their parents as a way to emotionally respond to situations. A person who has seen his mother or father calmly handling a situation is unlikely to scream his head off when he gets into a problematic situation!

How is anger usually expressed? What is the way it can produce the most negative effect? What happens when anger is suppressed?

Anger, obviously, is expressed in words or physical action.
It is normal to feel angry. But one should know how to handle this powerful emotion.
It has to be expressed. Being assertive, without being destructive is the best balance we can learn in coping with this emotion.
Lashing out verbally, especially when we know it is hurting the listener, is merely verbal abuse. It has a damaging effect not just on the person it is aimed at but also on self.
Physical violence on objects and people around, though quite common, is simply abusive behaviour that should be actively discouraged.
Suppressing anger, without dealing with the cause or the emotion also has a negative effect. It can lead to other disorders like Anxiety Disorders impacting vulnerable groups like children, pets etc. Suppressing anger can also lead to a person to develop passive–aggressive behaviour in which he or she is cynical, hostile or insulting.

How does anger impact health; physical and mental?

The following table shows how anger impacts health:

Physical Health Mental Health
Heart Attack Anxiety Disorder
Stroke Depressive Disorder
High Blood pressure
Insomnia Headache
Digestion Problems
Abdominal Pain
Skin problems (eczema)
Loss of hair

Are there tests that can measure anger levels?

Take this small quiz below and you can rate yourself.

Do you feel tense much of the time? Yes / No
Do you easily shout at others?Yes / No
Have you ever experienced anger to the extent of beating someone?Yes / No
Do you keep cursing others?Yes / No
Do you get angry often (more than 3 times a week) with anyone?Yes / No
Has anyone told you not to yell or curse so much?Yes / No
Do angry outbursts make you feel powerful?Yes / No
When you get angry, are you able to calm yourself quickly?Yes / No
Do you get into road rage?Yes / No
Do you feel proud about your outburst or do you proudly share with your friends about your recent outburst?Yes / No
Do thoughts of violence occur in your mind?Yes / No

Scoring: 0 – 2 Manageable (will benefit from relaxation exercises) / 3 – 5 Moderate: you need to learn more about what stresses you and learn other coping strategies. / 6 – 10 = Seek an early appointment with a therapist!

When does a person know that he needs help?

Some people have an insight into their problems and when their functioning or their relationships starts declining, they seek help. But there are many who do not consider anger as a problem and in contrary think that it is a great ‘Life Skill’ that they are gifted with. They are the ones who are likely to suffer from its impact on physical and mental health. Their attitude can also adversely affect the health and quality of life of those around them.

What are the techniques adopted to manage anger?

There are many common remedies suggested by elders to overcome anger some of them are:

Common Sense Techniques
Count up to 10 (for some people 100!), Listen to a song. (Hopefully the song wont irritate you further!), Drink water etc.
Relaxation Techniques
Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as ‘relax’ ‘take it easy’ – repeat it repeatedly tell yourself while breathing deeply.
Relaxation Techniques can also be learnt to help oneself relax and release stress, without much damage.
Cognitive Restructuring
Instead of interpreting the situation as ‘it’s terrible’, ‘everything is ruined’ ‘it’s frustrating’ etc interpret as ‘ok it’s bad but not end of the world’ ‘to err is human – let me see how to fix it’ etc. This can have a very dramatic and calming effect.
Time Off
Anger is time bound, normally people do not feel angry after the crux of the moment, so if you can excuse yourself and move out of the situation and come back after some time you will deal with the situation much more effectively. It is very important that all thoughts about the provoking incident should be avoided during ‘Time Off’ – otherwise you will return with lot more anger than at the point you left!

Can the management techniques work permanently?

There are many techniques practiced to over come anger, some of them are very effective even in the long run provided the circumstances do not change. If the level of anger is to a severe degree then a psychotherapist has to do an overall work up of the person’s self esteem, coping styles and problem solving capabilities.

There are situations which continue to frustrate, over which we have no control. Isn’t it unnatural to say that we should not get angry?

Anger is a survival emotion. For ‘cavemen’ a propelling energy; for a ‘social activist’ a driving force; for a ‘journalist’ a motivation to fight injustice meted out to the ‘common man.’ Thus it is essentially a normal human emotion which can have a very constructive effect. The reason for anger and the way it is expressed determines whether it is a healthy emotion or not. If someone has a fit for something trivial such as not enough salt in the food, certainly it is an unhealthy emotion and can be destructive.

Your own experience and qualification in the area of anger management?

Anger seems to be a common problem now for both genders and all age groups. Children are being now brought to my clinic for shouting, screaming, and indulging in destructive activities. Executives come with this problem particularly when they start becoming unpopular among their team. Housewives have this problem and it affects their interpersonal relationship with their husband and children.

Based on cognitive behavioural therapy principles, I have developed workshops for young people to help improve academic performance, manage anger and improve emotional quotient.

Ravi Samuel MA, M.Phil., PGCARM (Lond)is currently a Dementia Research Consultant for a study co-ordinated by Prof. Martin Prince, Institute of Psychiatry, London. He completed M Phil in Social Work, from Loyola College, Chennai, India in 2002.He took a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Research Methodology, Thames Valley University, London. He has taught at Geriatric Mental Status(GMS) Instrument Training Workshops in Singapore and Malaysia.

He has won awards and has published papers and received training at several institutions on aspects of geriatrics, dementia and caregiving, which are his areas of interest.

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