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Understanding and Coping with Anger

What is Anger?

Anger is a common emotional response to feeling threatened or frustrated. Anger can be caused by such triggers as our needs, desires and goals not being met, by our perception that someone is insulting or disrespecting us or by everyday events, such as traffic congestion, a messy roommate, criticism, or not being listened to.

Sometimes anger can be justified and beneficial. For example, anger can motivate us to take corrective action or to get out of a destructive situation. Anger is not beneficial when it occurs too frequently, is experienced too intensely, and when it leads to aggression and hostility.

Aggression is an action we take when we become angry or frustrated. Aggression is behavior that is intended to harm someone. Aggressive behavior can be verbal in the form of insults, threats, demeaning comments, or sarcasm. Most often, aggressive behavior involves using threats, intimidation, or physical violence to punish or control others.

Hostility is a state of chronic anger that can lead to aggression against others. It can also have negative consequences for the hostile individual, including physical illness and the loss of significant relationships.

When Does Anger Become a Problem?

Anger becomes a problem when it leads to severe negative consequences that may be physiological, emotional, behavioral, interpersonal and legal.

  • Physiological consequences may include illnesses such as hypertension, stroke, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, muscle aches, skin breakouts, and chronic headaches.
  • Emotional consequences may include depression, anxiety, difficulties with intimacy, chronic irritability, and road rage.
  • Behavioral consequences may include substance abuse, domestic violence, punching walls, physical altercations, and other impulsive destructive behavior.
  • Interpersonal consequences include the loss of friendships, isolation, and the loss of intimate relationships.
  • Legal consequences can include expulsion from academic institutions, arrest, prosecution, and incarceration that accrue from engaging in threatening and violent behavior.

What are the Goals of Anger Management?

  • To clearly recognize your own early warning signs that you are becoming angry.
  • To make a commitment to expressing anger in a way that does not hurt you or others.
  • To express your anger clearly and directly in ways that do not destroy relationships that are important to you or lead to other negative consequences.
  • To learn specific strategies for managing anger and developing self control, such as relaxation techniques, examining and changing your irrational beliefs and inflammatory thinking, developing better communications skills and recognizing the inevitable consequences of anger that is out of control.

What are the Warning Signs of Anger?

  • Muscle tension, sweating, nervousness, racing heartbeat, physical pain or other physical symptoms.
  • Restlessness, anxiety, irritability, poor memory, excessive preoccupation with the angering situation, confusion, racing thoughts.
  • Outbursts of emotions, feeling on edge or hyper-vigilant, feeling guilty or fearful.

How Can You Cope With Anger?

  • Realize that intense anger can be dangerous. If you are close to losing control of your anger, get help right away.
  • If you are in an angry altercation with someone else and you are in fear of losing control, take a time-out by removing yourself physically from the situation.
  • Use physical exercise, such as taking a walk, running or going to the gym as a healthy way of releasing anger.
  • Use relaxation strategies, such as taking deep breaths, listening to music or visualizing yourself at a beach or another pleasant environment as a way of diffusing anger.
  • Ask yourself whether the negative consequences of behaving aggressively are really worth it.
  • Talk to a friend, family member or counselor about your anger. Talking to someone else can change your interpretation of a situation and offer a new perspective. This can help you feel less preoccupied by anger, and you will be less likely to behave aggressively.
  • When you feel calmer and more in control of your anger, express your feelings in words clearly and directly. When you are in control of your anger, you can discuss your feelings with another in a way that is constructive and that can change the situation for the better.

When Should You Get Professional Help For Yourself Or A Friend?

If you are concerned about angry feelings that you are experiencing, or about a friend who you believe is losing control of his or her anger, it is time to get professional help. There are resources on campus that can help you to understand your angry feelings, and can teach you strategies for managing those feelings, such as relaxation techniques, communication and conflict resolution skills, and changing your inflammatory thoughts and beliefs. You do not have to deal with anger on your own.

Resources at Iona College:

Counseling Center (914) 633-2038
Health Services (914) 633-2548
Office of Student Success (914) 633-2270
Office of Residential Life (914) 633-2336
Office of Mission and Ministry (914) 633-2632
Resident Advisors/Campus Ministers