During the holiday season, we all decorate our homes, spend time with our families, and watch holiday movies. My personal favorite is The Grinch. It’s a comedic movie that reminds us of the joys of this season. The story of the Grinch is well known. He believed he was wronged and developed an anger towards the people of Whoville, especially around Christmas time. His anger caused him to isolate himself and seek revenge against the individuals that he felt wronged him in the past. As loved as the movie is and although we empathize with him, no one wants to be the Grinch. To make sure we stay joyous this season; we need to understand how anger works to ensure we steer clear of Grinch-like behaviors.
So What is Anger?
Simply put, anger is an emotion – a way that we feel. According to Psychology Today, it is one of the most “elemental emotions.” It is related to our survival response, more specifically the “flight, flight, or freeze response.” It alerts us of a pending danger and prepares us to react in one of the three ways mentioned above. Fight means we are facing the issue head on, flight means we run from it, and freeze means we get stuck and don’t do anything! Sometimes our response can help us handle the situation in a positive way – if we know what to do! Our anger doesn’t have to look like yelling, stomping our feet, or becoming aggressive. It might even be used as motivation, but we have to learn how to identify clues that inform us our anger is growing, then use calming techniques to remain in a calm mindset, and control of our anger to put it to good use!
What are Anger Cues?
Anger cues are warning signs that anger is present and escalating. If ignored, they can lead us to behavior aggressively, which will lead to negative consequences like loss of trust and hurting ones we love. There are four types of anger cues: physical, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive.
- Physical Cues: This is our body’s response to anger. They occur after we become triggered. Examples of physical cues are: heart rate increasing, quicker breathing, higher blood pressure, flushed face, or increased sweating.
- Behavioral Cues: These are the behaviors used to demonstrate our anger, or how we behave when angered. Examples of behavioral cues are: slamming the door, raising your voice, breaking things, throwing things, or even punching a wall.
- Emotional Cues: Anger is never felt alone. There are always other emotions felt along with our anger. Think of an iceberg, although it looks one size above the water, most of the iceberg lies hidden underneath the water’s surface. We may become triggered, we feel not good enough, or betrayed, or unworthy and we display anger, to protect ourselves from the more vulnerable and honestly not fun feelings. Other examples of emotional cues: being scared, sad, unworthy, betrayed, rejected, and ignored.
- Cognitive Cues: These are the thoughts that occur during an anger provoking situation. When individuals become emotional thoughts struggle to remain logically based and turn, very quickly to illogical thoughts. When illogically thoughts appear with anger, they tend to look at situations through a negative view, which further escalates anger. Examples include thinking others are making fun of us, thinking negative thoughts, and thinking others are “out to get us.”
Remember the Grinch? He was repeatedly bullied and became hurt. Although he was hurt, he only allowed the world to see his anger, which made Whoville fear him, but that hurt never went away. That sadness the Grinch felt was an emotional cue. Although we don’t know for sure when the Grinch became angry, he most likely had an increased heart rate, which would be an example of a physical cue. An example of a behavioral cue, the Grinch demonstrated was stealing the presents from Whoville. This action showed Whoville that the Grinch was angry at them, causing them to fear him. A cognitive cue the Grinch displayed was thinking that all Whoville disliked him because of how different he looked. This thought was disproved when they all accepted him back after he stopped being angry at them.
So What do we do when Anger Feelings Grow?
After an anger provoking situation occurs and you have recognized your anger cues or your youth’s anger cues, your goal is to enact the relaxation response. When you are in the relaxation response, that’s when you feel safe and can go back to logical thinking. Health benefits might also occur: heart rate slows down, blood pressure decreases, your digestion gets better, you sleep better and your immune system works better (Ambardekar, 2022). Here are some to give a try!
- Taking a break/walk: Removing yourself from the trigger is going to help decrease cognitive cues. The easiest way to do this is by going to your room to gather your thoughts. It is important that both parties are in a calmer mindset before continuing the conversation – talking after taking a break helps to start the conversation off right.
- Working Out: Exercising is a great way to calm yourself after having an anger provoking event. When you exercise your body releases the secretion of dopamine and serotonin – neurotransmitters help increase feelings of pleasure and because of this are natural mood enhancers.
- Get Creative: According to The National Youth Council of Ireland, “creativity opens the mind and allows us to view and solve problems more openly and with innovation.” Some suggestions for using creativity are painting, making stress balls, using Play-Doh, and drawing.
- Deep Breathing: This is when you take slow, deep breaths. Deep breathing is a quick way to engage your relaxation response. When beginning your deep breathing practice, you can use a technique called “Box Breathing.” Before beginning, get comfortable and then breathe in using your nose for four seconds. The next step is to hold your breath for four seconds. After holding your breath, you slowly exhale for four seconds. You can repeat this method three to four times, or until calm.
Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/anger
National Youth Counsel of Ireland.