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Anger Is Just A Symptom

There's nothing worse in a bad situation than losing your cool and not thinking clearly. If this is something you often do — it's time to look at yourself to stop the pattern of explosive anger.

Photo Credit: Yogendra Singh

My father, in my opinion, had an undiagnosed case of Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). The Mayo Clinic describes IED as "...a disorder [that] involves repeated, sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior or angry verbal outbursts in which you react grossly out of proportion to the situation." He would flip his shit over the littlest things, and his aggression in those moments had no end. His case is certainly mixed with little to no emotional intelligence, which makes it all so much worse.

When you get angry to a level above just stubbing your toe, your prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that controls executive function and decision making, essentially shuts off. So when you describe someone as being "out of their mind" with anger—you aren't being hyperbolic. However, if you let yourself rise to the level of being so enraged that your brain function diminishes, there are sometimes unintended consequences.

We've probably all been in the situation when you get so worked up that you act in a way that is contrary to your regular character. I can remember a time not too long ago when my partner and I were installing a floor in our house, and things were not going my way. I threw some stuff and banged the underlayment with the rubber mallet I was using. If you know me personally, you would probably only see me get to that level once or twice—it's a rarity because I find it so mortifying to act that way in any situation. Those emotions also make me feel like I'm looking at a mirror and seeing the reflection of my father—a scary thought.

Now that we've covered anger and how it affects you physically and emotionally, let's talk about ways to manage your emotions in those high-stress situations.

  • Step away: Sit down and make a list of the emotions you feel or how your body reacts when you are in a situation where you know anger is building. Identify some warning signs that you are starting to lose control of yourself, and when you start to exhibit those signs walk away from the situation. This isn't something you're going to be able to do right away, and it will take time and patience to understand your warning signs to implement a plan.

  • Change your thoughts: In a previous post about mental health, I told you how you are not your thoughts and some techniques to help change them. One exceptional method to use when anger is starting to creep in is cognitive restructuring. In cognitive restructuring, you replace the negative thoughts leading to your irritation. For example: "This floor isn't going the way I want it to, and I'm about to throw this damn hammer." Instead of this thought, try replacing it with: "I'm frustrated because this isn't working, but it will work better once I've taken a little break." Take the negative and turn it into a positive.

  • Don't dwell: When something isn't going the way you want it to—take yourself out of the situation and think of something else until you have calmed down. It isn't enough to just walk away from what makes you mad if you continue to dwell on the topic. This just reinforces a cycle of aggression.

  • Relax: Deep breathing exercises are a great way to stop your thought pattern in the critical moments before an explosion of anger. Next time you get upset, try breathing in for five seconds, holding it for five seconds, and then exhaling for five seconds. Repeat this process until you feel your heart rate return to normal and your mind clears.

  • Communicate: My partner and I have been working on communicating when we aren't doing well mentally. This could be as simple as saying, "I'm upset, and I need time alone." I've been trying to be better with not provoking my partner when we are in a heated argument. We are best friends, but we are not perfect. We sometimes argue over the silliest things, and I know every button to push to send him over the edge. I need to work on just walking away from the situation and trying to understand his point of view instead of trying to win.

Just like everything in this world, there is no magic cure for dealing with your anger at the moment, but hopefully, some of these tips will help you build a solid mental foundation to face those challenges as they appear. Above all, remember to use logic. Sometimes your anger is justified, but it has the chance of quickly becoming irrational if you don't handle the emotions immediately. Remind yourself that you are strong and capable, and you can face any challenge life sends your way.

Anger is an emotion that has no purpose in a sustainable life. In the coming years, there will be stressful situations where only clear heads will prevail. Start working on managing your anger now so that when those bad times come, you will be ready to face them head-on. Walk away from your anger to build a resilient and robust life.


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