What is anger?

Anger is a feeling – a powerful and perfectly normal human emotion. Don’t confuse it with aggression. Aggression is behavior.

Anger is a signal that something is not OK with us, and we need to change it. Anger needs to be expressed for us to get what we need, but there are helpful and unhelpful ways of expressing it.

Finally, anger is energy – it gives us confidence and motivation to act and make positive changes in our lives.

Let’s look at healthy anger in action: if a friend arrives half an hour late to meet you at the mall and you feel upset, your anger is a signal that being on time is important to you. Anger gives you the confidence to ask your friend to let you know in advance if she’s going to be late.

Some possibilities are dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, hot skin, upset stomach, clenched jaw, stiff neck, grinding teeth, tunnel vision, and muscle tension.

What happens to your body when you’re angry?

Why does this happen?

When we think we’re being threatened in some way, the oldest part of our brain, the amygdala, sends a message to our body to get ready to fight or run. This is known as our ‘fight or flight’ response. It makes our heartbeat faster, our muscles tense up, etc. It prepares the body to react before we can think. The newest part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, is our ‘brake system’. It’s the part of our brain that says, “Wait if you do this, what might happen? Will you regret it?” The prefrontal cortex calms us down and gives us time to make responsible choices.

In cave man times, the people who survived were the ones with the strongest amygdalae – those who could fight or run away from danger. But in today’s modern age, we no longer face the kinds of threats the caveman faced. The problem is that our bodies haven’t changed. For survival, we are naturally weird to react before we think about the consequences of our actions. We’re built to fight or run, even when the situation that we’re facing isn’t life-threatening. That’s why we get so upset when someone cuts in front of us in line, although we’re not actually in any danger.

The purpose of anger management exercises in this course is to train your prefrontal cortex – your brake system – to kick into gear immediately after your amygdala is triggered to fight or run. This way you can avoid doing something that is damaging to yourself or others. The more you practice using your anger management tools, the more control you will have over your anger.

CALL TO ACTION: This week, talk to someone about something you learned from this workout. (“Did you know…?) When you teach someone something you’ve just learned, you strengthen your own knowledge.