Do you feel like people are more agitated these days? Well, you’re not alone.
According to a recent poll, 84% of people surveyed believe Americans are angrier today than they were a generation ago.
Cleveland Clinic psychologist Dr. Scott Bea said that when it comes to anger, it can be a different story for different people.
“For some, we maintain high levels of anger, we’re throwing objects; we’re keeping it in, to ourselves, it has negative effects on our body, our brains, and probably the way we perceive our lives,” he said. “In other instances, anger is a really useful emotion. It’s a way we set limits. If somebody’s infringing on our rights, we use that sentiment to create barriers to try to utilize assertive efforts to try to protect ourselves.”
Bea said recent research shows that anxiety and depression are on the rise, especially for young adults in the U.S. -- and when anxiety and depression rates go up, anger often follows.
According to Bea, anger is often driven by the perception of threat, and we have a tendency to perceive things as more dangerous today than they actually are because of the persistence of media and news.
He said there were difficult things happening in earlier generations, but they weren’t as highly publicized.
Bea admits that we don’t talk about anger much -- we don’t teach ourselves how to recognize or deal with it; and anger is a reflexive emotion, so it can be hard to proactively manage it.
“When our emotions are enflamed, logic and reasoning kind of go to the wayside, and when we’re really anxious, small provocations and upsets can really throw us over this threshold where we’re now feeling anger and maybe behaving angrily,” he said.
But, Bea said, if we can work on our awareness -- knowing how our minds and body react when we become angry -- we can get better at controlling it. Because whether we have a short fuse, or we’re the type of person to bottle up our anger, we are the ones who pay the price.
“Taking steps up front, like calming your body,” Bea said. “Yoga, or a meditative practice, or mindfulness, are disciplines that we can get into that would be useful in terms of addressing our body.”
Bea said it’s good to work on our "emotional shock absorbers," either through self-awareness or with the help of a professional, in order to become more resilient without getting too agitated.
Another way to help control our anger reflex is to give it a name -- by labeling what is making us angry.
“If we can actually label it, or name it, very carefully, that expression is called anger granularity -- the more refined and precise we can be about what’s creating our anger, or the source of our anger, we can generally break it down into more bite-sized pieces, feel a little less daunted by it, even have the possibility of bringing some humor to the experience,” Bea said.