What is anger?
Physiologically, anger evokes a common response in people. As hormones are released by the adrenal glands, muscles tense, blood pressure increases, heart rate accelerates, and breathing becomes more rapid.
Anger is a natural and basic emotion. It’s usually a reaction to a real or perceived threat, and can vary from mild irritation to rage.
Like fear, anger is tied to our instinct for self-preservation. But instead of warning us about potential physical harm, anger helps tell us when our intellectual being, our integrity, or our “self” is under attack. Feeling angry is a good indicator that something is wrong with a situation, circumstance, or relationship.
As a general rule, anger is thought to stem from two emotional states:
- frustration when you fail to get what you want, and
- a sense that your feelings are being disrespected or disregarded.
Because anger is a very personal emotion, the stimuli tend to be personal too. Common anger stimuli include betrayal, disapproval, deprivation, exploitation, humiliation, manipulation, restriction, and threat.
The stimuli for anger may be external or internal, direct or indirect. For instance, you might find yourself becoming angry with someone who has just disrespected you — a direct and external stimuli.
Or, perhaps someone says an idea is stupid and even though it’s not your idea, you react angrily. This may be a reaction to a past experience, such as being called stupid as a child, and is an example of indirect, internal stimuli.
Anger affects perceptions, interpretations, thinking, and behavior. In fact, angry people are less likely to be able to think rationally. With all these elements of communication adversely impacted, it’s easy to see how anger can have damaging effects in the workplace.
Understanding your anger
Your organization may discourage the expression of anger, thinking it has no place at work. But the reality is that anger is part of normal work interactions.
Disagreements among coworkers aren’t uncommon. Differences in opinion, approaches to work, or understanding can easily lead to disagreement and even anger. But exploring how you express anger can help you deal appropriately with it and avoid the potential negative outcomes of anger.
For instance, do you tend to overreact, letting your emotions direct your actions and possibly igniting the tempers of others? Or do you tend to repress your anger, releasing it in more subtle ways — such as by refusing to participate? Either way, your anger is counterproductive.
Learning to manage your anger will help you avoid expressing your anger in negative or counterproductive ways. You can begin by attempting to understand your anger. Looking at how often you get angry, and how intense your anger is, is a good start.
Drawing on the experience of Dr. W. Doyle Gentry — an anger management specialist — feeling angry not at all, or up to five times a week is normal and healthy. If you feel angry more than this, you should explore your anger and find ways to reduce your exposure to triggers and learn ways to manage your anger.
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