By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple ideas that you can use to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing every day, based on quality research.
This is Episode 73 and this week I’m talking about anger. In this episode I’ll cover what anger is, why dealing with anger effectively matters, and how to manage anger for the sake of your wellbeing. So, let’s talk about mental health!
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the article/transcript version.
Watch Episode 11 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV — in this latest episode I’m sharing a whole bunch of tips for dealing with anxiety both during and after lockdown, plus when staying at home a lot (e.g. Working from home) and just in general for all of us as we work through what the pandemic means for us individually. Even if you’re sick of talking about that little event that brought the world to a standstill (and I’m not talking about the ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal!), every single one of us has been impacted by the pandemic in some shape or form… so we may as well see how we can use it to our advantage to help us have a better life now and in the future.
Watch it below or visit the channel on YouTube:
This podcast episode was originally released on 4 April, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 73, and thanks so much for joining me! 2021 is The Year of Wellbeing here on the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast, and each week I’ll be exploring lots of different things you can do every day to make a positive difference in your own life.
This week is all about anger. As I said last week, emotions like frustration are just anger in disguise and since I am someone who tends to get frustrated easily (although I’m nowhere near as easily frustrated as I used to be), I thought it was time to take a cold, hard look at the topic of anger — and I’m fairly sure I’m not the only one who gets annoyed sometimes! This episode is very much about understanding anger and its various causes, as well as the effect it can have on you as well as the world around you, and I’ll dig into different ways you can manage anger as part of looking after your overall wellbeing.
Before I get into that, Episode 11 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV is out now on YouTube where I’m sharing a whole bunch of tips for dealing with anxiety both during and after lockdown, plus when staying at home a lot (e.g. Working from home) and just in general for all of us as we work through what the pandemic means for us individually. Even if you’re sick of talking about that little event that brought the world to a standstill (and I’m not talking about the ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal!), every single one of us has been impacted by the pandemic in some shape or form… so we may as well see how we can use it to our advantage to help us have a better life now and in the future. The content I post on YouTube is completely different to the episode you hear on the podcast, so if you’d like some more Let’s Talk About Mental Health goodness each week then head to YouTube at www.youtube.com/c/LetsTalkAboutMentalHealth or watch it now at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/YouTube — and while you’re there, if you like what you see then please subscribe to the channel.
So, now, on with this week’s episode about anger…
I have a quick temper. Both of my parents were like that so growing up I didn’t really know any different, and it wasn’t until about 12 years ago that I actually started thinking about the consequences of being a bit of a cranky bastard sometimes (now, let’s be clear here — it’s not all the time… but when I’m annoyed about something or someone, trust me when I say everyone around me will know about it — ask almost anyone I’ve ever worked with and they’ll tell you I wear my heart on my sleeve).
I can distinctly remember the first time I actually stopped in my tracks and thought that maybe my usual way of venting my frustrations about everything and everyone wasn’t the best way to handle situations that were giving me the shits. I was at work one day and talking to my manager about how frustrated I was with one of my team members, and he said, “Well, frustration is just anger in disguise.” For a moment I didn’t know what to say or do, and I don’t know that I fully comprehended the magnitude of what he had said at first, but I definitely filed it away for future reference and it made me start thinking more and more about my default cranky mode whenever I found something or someone annoying or frustrating.
Today it’s something that I have to work on every single day and I do not have it fully under control yet, and who knows if I ever will (let me tell you, I might be biting my tongue when I’m annoyed but my face still keeps on giving me away). I still swear like a trooper sometimes when people cut me off while driving or push in front of me at the supermarket, but you’ll notice that I used the word ‘sometimes’ there — because it used to be ‘a lot of the time’, so I can definitely celebrate the progress I’ve made so far in learning to deal with my temper before it erupts. It’s an ongoing journey and it will very likely take daily work for the rest of my life… which I think is much better than pretending it’s not there or just not even making any attempt whatsoever to try and address it so that I can grow.
What is anger?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, anger is a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility. Anger can range all the way from mild annoyance through to full-blown rage — we have a lot of different words, in English at least, to describe the various levels of anger… we’re talking about irritation, annoyance, displeasure, resentment, being cross, frustration, indignation, outrage, fury and wrath to name a few, along with my personal favourite: ‘vexation’ (people these days just don’t declare how vexed they are anymore and it’s such a shame, because nothing makes you feel like you’re in Victorian Britain quite like declaring that one is overcome by vexation! Anyway, I just thought that was funny… it probably wasn’t, and I don’t care!).
Seriously though, anger is one of those emotions that most (if not all) of us experience from time to time. In the words of Healthline:
“Anger is a natural, instinctive response to threats. Some anger is necessary for our survival. Anger becomes a problem when you have trouble controlling it, causing you to say or do things you regret. A 2010 study found that uncontrolled anger is bad for your physical and emotional health. It can also quickly escalate to verbal or physical violence, harming you and those around you… Anger itself isn’t considered a disorder, but anger is a known symptom of several mental health conditions [including] depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, alcohol abuse, oppositional defiant disorder, bipolar disorder [and more].”Source: Healthline (https://www.healthline.com/health/anger-issues#causes)
The thing about anger is that it doesn’t just affect you — it can also have a negative effect on your personal relationships as well as your work relationships, not to mention the way complete strangers might think about you if you’re going off about something in public. That’s one of the main reasons why it’s important for your mental health and wellbeing to find healthy ways to deal with anger, regardless of whether it’s minor irritation or full-blown rage.
We do also need to talk about anger management issues, even just briefly. Some people can find it very difficult to control their anger no matter how hard they try, and that can be a sign of any number of underlying conditions. There are therapists and counsellors who specialise in anger management treatment and can work with individuals experiencing these more extreme types of anger; I think that, like anything, it’s definitely important for all of us to take accountability for our own behaviours and make the effort to do the work so we can address our mental health challenges, but sometimes that’s not enough and so professional help is necessary; if you’re finding that you experience extremes of anger and have difficulty controlling it, then it’s important to talk to your doctor about referring you to someone who can work with you or instead finding someone yourself who specialises in anger management. Just be aware that not all therapists and counsellors work in this space; for example, as a coach and counsellor myself I choose not to work with people experiencing anger management issues as I am not trained in that field and I know it requires a very particular set of skills to manage effectively… so do find someone who has the right training.
So let’s return to talking about anger in general and now let’s discuss…
Why does dealing with anger effectively matter?
As I just said a few moments ago, anger can be damaging to your relationships. And on top of that it can be damaging to you as well: the same Healthline article that I mentioned before noted that;
“Anger causes physical and emotional symptoms. While it’s normal to experience these symptoms on occasion, a person with anger issues tends to experience them more often and to a more severe degree. Physical symptoms [can be experienced in] different parts of your body, including your heart, brain, and muscles. A 2011 study found that anger also causes an increase in testosterone levels and decrease in cortisol levels.”Source: Healthline (https://www.healthline.com/health/anger-issues#symptoms)
And the link for that article is in the transcript.
The thing here is to understand that some anger is not a bad thing — anger can motivate you to work through difficulties and to make changes if there are things you’re not happy with, and it’s also a fairly common part of the grieving process. But it becomes an issue when it turns into aggressive behaviour — that could be physical or verbal aggression, or even emotional aggression (such as manipulating other people). It can also be a warning sign of some mental health conditions, like the ones I mentioned earlier and others. The big thing here is to be able to identify unhelpful angry behaviour — let me quote a piece here from Mind UK:
“How you behave when you’re angry depends on how well you’re able to identify and cope with your feelings, and how you’ve learned to express them. Not everyone expresses anger in the same way. For example, some unhelpful ways you may have learned to express anger include:
Outward aggression and violence – such as shouting, swearing, slamming doors, hitting or throwing things and being physically violent or verbally abusive and threatening towards others.
Inward aggression – such as telling yourself that you hate yourself, denying yourself your basic needs (like food, or things that might make you happy), cutting yourself off from the world and self-harming.
Non-violent or passive aggression – such as ignoring people or refusing to speak to them, refusing to do tasks, or deliberately doing things poorly, late or at the last possible minute, and being sarcastic or sulky while not saying anything explicitly aggressive or angry.”
And the link for that is in the transcript (source: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anger/about-anger/)
Please note there that those are examples of unhealthy angry behaviours — nobody is saying you shouldn’t experience anger (because it’s a natural emotion), but instead it’s about finding healthy and effective ways to cope with the anger. How do you do that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode…
How to effectively manage anger for the sake of your wellbeing
Pause for at least 10 seconds — I have talked many times in previous episodes about the difference between reacting and responding. When you react without thinking, your emotions are completely in control which means you are very likely not thinking rationally… and that usually leads to complete and utter carnage that you will have to clean up later. In those initial few seconds you’re likely being hijacked by biological processes which are priming you for action; stress hormones are released throughout your body, and your heart rate increases because it’s pumping blood faster to all parts of your body in case you need to fight or run away — when all of that is happening, you are not thinking rationally. So breathe through it for a few seconds and let yourself calm down a little so these instinctive reactions can settle down; if you just focus on slowly breathing in and breathing out, breathing in and breathing out, that helps to settle yourself and tells your brain that you’re not in danger, so then the logical brain can take over from your instincts.
Think about what the anger is trying to tell you — and I think it’s worthwhile doing this before you respond. So often we just react or respond to the annoyance, frustration, fury or whatever form of anger it is, but if you dig a bit deeper and consider why it’s happening, you often find there’s a much deeper trigger. For example, you might be feeling unappreciated or devalued, or you might be stressed — in fact, in an article from ABC Australia (which you can find in the transcript — find it here: https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/feeling-angry-can-mean-your-mental-health-needs-attention/12354886) noted that pressure and stress can make prior issues with irritability and anger worse (something I can definitely agree with as I was like that for quite a while leading up to my breakdown in 2011, and it became harder and harder to manage until I eventually couldn’t manage it anymore). I talked about stress back in Episode 8 and Burnout back in Episode 18, and I’d highly recommend either or even both of those episodes if you’re struggling with too much pressure in your life.
Choose to respond in a thoughtful way — you are in control of what you do, say and feel… so make choices that are thoughtful and considered rather than just saying whatever pops into your head. I’m someone who is quite direct and honest, and I find that I need to really stop and think about the best way to say things when I’m annoyed because it can come out as too direct, and almost harsh, if I’m really irritated. Regardless of how other people behave, you are responsible for your own words and actions — so choose to be as thoughtful (and kind) as possible. Regular listeners will know my mantra here: do no harm, be kind and give more than you take… before you respond, consider these three things and how you can apply them to your response. That may mean that you need to…
Take a break if you need to — I have been working on my anger for many years and even still there are times where I am so frustrated or annoyed that even after pausing for a while I still see red; if that happens, step away from the person or situation for a while. You might need to take a couple of hours or even a couple of days before you can look at the situation rationally; that’s OK. Take your time. A part of that for me involves choosing to…
Consider how your initial reactions align with the type of person you want to be — I think about the version of myself who used to work in corporate and would be constantly stressed out, which led me to getting so annoyed with people who did something wrong that I would tear them a new arsehole — I don’t want to be that person. That’s someone who, like my parents, didn’t care about wanting to be better and do better… in fact, that’s someone who was just trying to do what he had to do to get through the day, and I know now that he was barely keeping his head above water which is why I ended up breaking down. I’m sharing this not as a way of looking down on who I was or making this all about me, but it’s about saying first of all every experience has led me to where I am today and so I’m grateful for it, and I have no shame but bloody hell… there’s a way to treat people and telling them off for doing something stupid really isn’t the nicest way to be, is it? Working through all of my shit while dealing with anxiety and depression made me begin to really understand the walls I had put up around myself in order to survive for so many years, and it all comes back to the fact that we can either choose to just go on with our lives never trying to be better, or we can focus on being the very best version of ourselves possible by improving just a little every day. When I became much more aware of myself and my behaviour, I decided I didn’t want to be known for being grumpy and frustrated all the time; I want to be calm, satisfied and focused on doing work that feels meaningful and which helps other people. So think about the type of person you want to be and then decide how to respond to external situations, people and events in ways that align to that.
Let go — holding onto anger does a lot of harm to you; it eats away at your soul and can lead to bitterness and general nastiness. Find healthy ways to resolve conflicts and address issues in a timely manner, and choose not to hold onto grudges. Most people don’t go out of their way to hurt you, and even if they do that says much more about them than it does you. Let go. And remember that letting go doesn’t mean you let yourself be taken advantage of — quite the opposite! Letting go means you value your own peace of mind above all things. I talked about letting go back in Episode 32 and I’d encourage you to check that out for more on the subject.
Replace negative emotions with pleasant feelings — when you do things that make you feel good, endorphins (the so-called ‘happy hormone’) flood through your body. Exercise, get out into nature, sing, dance, watch Eurovision… all of these things and more will make you feel better and make it easier to move past the feelings of anger. I just recently rewatched Legally Blonde for the first time in a few years and Elle Woods was absolutely spot-on when she said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands… they just don’t!”
Know the signs — to quote the article from ABC Australia I mentioned earlier, “irritability is a symptom of some mental illnesses [including] generalised anxiety disorder [and] depression” (source: https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/feeling-angry-can-mean-your-mental-health-needs-attention/12354886). If you’re trying to deal with irritation or anger without success, it’s time to talk to someone (which I’ll come back to in a moment).
Be fully aware of the impact of more extreme angry behaviour — I know this won’t apply to everyone however it’s important that we talk about this openly, and I say that as someone who grew up in an environment that was both physically and emotionally abusive. I’m going to quote again from ABC Australia here because, frankly, I couldn’t have said this better myself… the quote is: “Expressing our anger through violence or aggression is not OK. It can hurt people and destroy our relationships. If you do this, seek help for the sake of those around you and yourself.” (And the link is in the transcript — find it here: https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/feeling-angry-can-mean-your-mental-health-needs-attention/12354886)
Therapy — if you need support to work through things, get support. I’m back in therapy and seeing someone every week at the moment, and I’m finding it really helpful to talk to someone objective and non-judgemental so I can work through the root cause of challenges and feelings (not just frustration but feelings in general). And guess what? Turns out most of my own challenges are rooted in feelings of guilt or fear. Which tends to be what affects many of us… so work with a professional if you need support.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to anger and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: When we let ourselves become frustrated, irritated, annoyed or even furious as a result of people, circumstances and events, we’re creating a situation where we are focused on things that are, more than likely, outside of our direct control (since you can only control your own words, actions and feelings). Sure, you might be able to influence some things, but all you can really ever hope to do is respond to events in a calm and rational way so you don’t wind up making the situation worse than it needs to be. Anger can be healthy, because it can force us to confront things that are not in our best interests so that we can make positive changes, but when we let it override our rational responses we are potentially doing harm to ourselves and to others.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it is:
“For every minute you remain angry you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
Next week I’ll be talking about success. In much of the world we’ve been told for years that success is measured by our bank account, the size of our house, the type of car we drive and the labels on our clothing. And I am someone who bought into that idea and worked myself into the ground to try and achieve it until I eventually had a total breakdown. Since then I’ve come to discover that every single thing we think we know about success is total and utter nonsense, and that true success is measured very differently. So next week I’ll be talking about what real success is (and what it isn’t), why redefining success is essential for your mental health, and how to approach the idea of success in a way that creates better overall wellbeing.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday 11th April. And join me for Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube, with new episodes released every Wednesday.
Head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for links and past episodes (including audio links and full transcripts) and while you’re there join the Let’s Talk About Mental Health mailing list to have exclusive updates land in your inbox — those of you on my email list receive the full transcript for each episode every week and I also just started a short weekly newsletter where I share 3-4 things that have inspired me or which I found interesting related to mental health and wellbeing, so if you like this show then sign up now at the website: letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.
You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth, where I post extra content throughout the week, and if you follow me on Instagram then you’ll notice that I make a point of interacting with as many people as possible there so it’s a great way to continue the conversation!
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
Did you like what you just read? Then please share this with someone who might appreciate it, like a friend, family member, or coworker… because word of mouth helps other people to find Let’s Talk About Mental Health! Thank you 🙂
Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2021 Jeremy Godwin.