Anger: Is Mad Always Bad?

How to Accept Anger and Embrace It Appropriately

Commonly viewed as a negative state of mind, anger is really just one of many normal human emotions. While it can have a negative impact on quality of life and interpersonal relationships, there are also times when anger leads to positive outcomes. If you regularly experience frustration or rage, learn how to channel your anger in a positive direction.

Why do we get angry?

Like every other emotion, anger is experienced in our minds and bodies through a complex series of physiological events. In essence, anger is the brain's fundamental physiological response to perceived threats. When we perceive that someone is threatening our safety, property, self-image or emotional well-being, our “fight or flight” response kicks in. Nerve cells begin firing in the hypothalamus and powerful chemicals such as cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenaline enter the bloodstream. This prepares us to protect ourselves and our interests.

Unfortunately for many people, the anger process can occur at inappropriate times. In modern times, the “fight or flight” reaction is rarely triggered by life-endangered situations. Instead, it tends to arise whenever we face situations that challenge our values, judgments and self-image.

Is it all bad?

Despite its destructive capabilities, anger can actually play a positive role in our lives. Many people are able to channel anger to help them overcome scary challenges. Research also suggests that anger can have positive effects on performance. In fact, according to research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, anger can actually boost creativity. What's more, although we tend to equate anger with flawed thinking, anger can actually promote more rational and careful analysis, according to a study appearing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Still, while there may be ways to channel anger into productive activity, more often than not, frustration and rage bring negative outcomes to our relationships and personal well-being. If you have a difficult time managing your anger, try using the following techniques to embrace and temper powerful emotions.

  • Write about your feelings. The voice, hands and feet are effective outlets for releasing powerful emotional energy. Many people experience relief from intense anger when they write about their feelings. If you are feeling overwhelmed by frustration or rage, sit down and write about your thoughts and emotions. This is a great way to express yourself in a way that won't damage relationships or escalate volatile situations.

  • Express your feelings. If your anger stems from a disagreement with another person's words or actions, try to express your feelings in a calm manner. Understand that people tend to respond to anger by getting angry themselves. Don't escalate volatile situations. If you are unable to calmly discuss the issue, remove yourself from the situation and try revisiting the subject after you've both had plenty of time to cool down.

  • Channel your anger. Because it tends to energize the body, anger can be used to fuel positive activities. Whether it's cleaning your house or participating in organized events for societal change, you can leverage your anger for good, positive things.

  • Stay mindful. Like all emotions,  rage and frustration are temporary. To keep our anger going, we usually need to support it with continued thought about whatever it was that made us mad in the first place. Research has shown that mindfulness training reduces anger and aggression. In fact, law enforcement officers regularly participate in mindfulness-based resilience training to help reduce stress and anger. If anger is taking over your life, do your best to focus on the present and avoid ruminating about negative events in the past.

When to seek help

While it can fuel positive action, anger can also damage our relationships and personal health. If you experience any of the following signs, consider seeking help from a therapist.

  • Road rage incidents

  • Thoughts of violence

  • Overwhelming negativity

  • Domestic violence

  • Screaming, yelling or hitting

  • Blaming others for making you angry

  • Violent behavior in public or at work

  • Breaking possessions or other inanimate objects

By taking steps to control your emotional reactivity, you can rid yourself of toxic feelings and break the cycle of anger. While it may seem like an uphill battle, most people are able to effectively manage their anger with some thoughtful guidance from a trained therapist.