Answers to Seven Questions About Anger

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Last week, I asked people on Facebook and Twitter seven quick questions, including one about how they handled things the last time they were angry (those stories are scattered throughout) about their anger via an anonymous survey. More than 100 people responded.

Here’s what I found:

1. Most People Get Angry Once a Week or More.

Get Angry


 Anger Story: Drunken (both of us) argument with my wife. I yelled a lot and punched a hole in a door.


2. Physical Fights Are Common.

Phyical Fights


Anger Story: Being hurt by someone very close to me. I vented about the situation to my close friends, but I often find myself ruminating over the thoughts as well. Eventually I just sucked it up and moved on without this person in my life anymore.


 3. Most People Don’t Argue Online.

Argue online


Anger Story: I held it in.


4. People Ruminate More Than Anything Else.

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Anger Story: The only incident I can recall is from a month ago. I found out my ex-boyfriend had been dishonest with me about something (which has been a pattern) so I texted him immediately. I expressed that I was very upset and that I was tired of him repeatedly being thoughtless about my feelings and being disrespectful toward me. That was about the extent of it….I really try to stay calm and express myself in a neutral, calm way when I am angry.


5. But Plenty of People Seek Out Support Too.

Family


Anger Story: Someone at work second guessed be despite me being a supervisor. Talked it out with her. It was awkward as hell, and I wish I could have beat her ass.


6. About 1 in 6 People Think They Have an Anger Problem.

problems


Anger Story: At my husband, I gave myself space within our home (went upstairs) to cool off and we talked it through a few hours later.


Anger Management Tip: Distance Yourself

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People often find themselves thinking about angering events for days at a time.  Such rumination only fuels the fire. Instead, try distancing yourself from the situation.  Looking at your anger from an outside perspective will be help you see if your anger is reasonable or not.  This simple mental exercise will likely reduce your anger and decrease any other negative thoughts you might be having.

Smell the Roses, Relieve the Rage

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Anger is an emotion that is experienced by everyone and one important aspect of anger is rumination, or dwelling on the negative events that have happened to us. In a recent article published in Aggressive Behavior, a team of researchers discussed one technique that may help decrease rumination: mindfulness. Dr. Ashley Borders, one of the authors of the article, describes mindfulness as, “paying attention to whatever is present right now (whether it be sounds, sights, feelings, and/or thoughts), ideally without judgment or reactive responses.”

But, does mindfulness actually decrease rumination? In order to examine this question, Dr. Borders and her team carried out two studies. In the first study, the researchers worked with a group of undergraduate students who were asked to fill out a number of self-report questionnaires designed to measure mindfulness, rumination, and anger/aggression. The study was then replicated with a group of participants recruited from the general population. The researchers did indeed find that mindfulness decreased anger by reducing the amount of time a person spends ruminating. Additionally, it was found that increased mindfulness was associated with decreased aggression. Dr. Borders suggested several reasons for why this may be. First, actively engaging in mindful behavior is the opposite of ruminating, and thus allows us to take our minds off of past events. Second, mindfulness allows an individual to be more “cognitively flexible,” or more able to shift attention away from negative thoughts. Last, she noted that, “mindful people are less likely to view negative feelings and unpleasant events as scary or unacceptable, whereas people who ruminate tend to fear and avoid negative emotions.”

Whether the reason is one or all of those listed above, Dr. Borders notes that the findings carry implications for both research and clinical practice. Specifically, since the study shows support for the use of mindfulness in decreasing anger, researchers may want to see how it affects other negative emotions. Clinicians may also want to make use of mindfulness training as a supplement to current interventions used in anger management training. In either case, it seems that mindfulness may have a future in helping individuals decrease anger and negativity.

In the mean time, Dr. Borders offers up a piece of advice for those looking to use mindfulness as tool to decrease negative thinking: “One way to feel less angry is to pay attention to what is happening around you right now…pay attention to the sound of cars going by your window or the feeling of your clothes on your skin, or how your stomach rises and falls as you breathe in and out. “ Be patient though, as learning to be mindful takes practice: “It’s like weight-lifting: you need to give your mind time to practice and build up the muscles needed for attentional control.”

Additional information on mindfulness can be found at http://www.mindfulexperience.org/.

By Matthew Machnik
Matthew Machnik is a senior Psychology major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He has a minor in Human Development and plans on attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.