Therapist

Is anger a stress response

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Well-managed anger can be a useful emotion that motivates you to make positive changes. On the other hand, anger is a powerful emotion and if it isn’t handled appropriately, it may have destructive results for you and those closest to you. Uncontrolled anger can lead to arguments, physical fights, physical abuse, assault and self-harm.

Physical effects of anger

Anger triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Other emotions that trigger this response include fear, excitement and anxiety. The adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.The brain shunts blood away from the gut and towards the muscles, in preparation for physical exertion. Heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase, the body temperature rises and the skin perspires. The mind is sharpened and focused.

Health problems with anger

The constant flood of stress chemicals and associated metabolic changes that go with ongoing unmanaged anger can eventually cause harm to many different systems of the body.

Some of the short and long-term health problems that have been linked to unmanaged anger include:

Expressing anger in healthy ways

Suggestions on how to express your anger in healthy ways include:

  • If you feel out of control, walk away from the situation temporarily, until you cool down.
  • Recognise and accept the emotion as normal and part of life.
  • Try to pinpoint the exact reasons why you feel angry.
  • Once you have identified the problem, consider coming up with different strategies for how to remedy the situation.
  • Do something physical, such as going for a run or playing sport.
  • Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling.

Unhelpful ways to deal with anger

Many people express their anger in inappropriate and harmful ways, including:

  • anger explosions – some people have very little control over their anger and tend to explode in rages. Raging anger may lead to physical abuse or violence. A person who doesn’t control their temper can isolate themselves from family and friends. Some people who fly into rages have low self-esteem, and use their anger as a way to manipulate others and feel powerful. For more information, see ‘

    What is violence against

    women?

    ’ on the White Ribbon Australia website

  • anger repression – some people consider that anger is an inappropriate or ‘bad’ emotion and choose to suppress it. However, bottled anger often turns into depression and anxiety. Some people vent their bottled anger at innocent parties, such as children or pets.

Dealing with arguments

When you have had an argument, it is easy to stay angry or upset with the other person. If you don’t resolve an argument with a person you see often, it can be a very uncomfortable experience.

Talking to the person about your disagreement may or may not help. If you do approach them, make sure it is in a helpful way. Stay calm and communicate openly and honestly.

If the person could be violent or abusive, it may be best not to approach them directly. You could talk to them over the phone to see if they are open to finding a solution to the argument, if you feel safe to do so. It might be helpful to ask someone to be there with you, to give you support when you make the call and afterwards.

Try and tell the person how you feel as a result of their opinion, but avoid trying to tell them how they feel. It is possible to agree to disagree. You may need someone else to help you resolve the disagreement. You could ask a trusted third person to act as a go-between and help you both get another view on the argument.

Reasons for dealing with arguments

There are good reasons for dealing with arguments, including:

  • It will give you a sense of achievement and make you feel more positive.
  • You may feel more relaxed, healthier and more able to get a good night’s sleep.
  • You may develop stronger relationships.
  • You may feel happier.

Suggestions for long-term anger management

The way you typically express anger may take some time to modify. Suggestions include:

  • Keep a diary of your anger outbursts, to try and understand how and why you get mad.
  • Consider

    assertiveness

    training, or learning about techniques of

    conflict

    resolution

    .

  • Learn relaxation techniques, such as

    meditation

    or

    yoga

    .

  • See a counsellor or psychologist if you still feel angry about events that occurred in your past.
  • Exercise regularly

    .

Benefits of regular exercise in mood management

People who are stressed are more likely to experience anger. Numerous worldwide studies have documented that regular exercise can improve mood and reduce stress levels. This may be because physical exertion burns up stress chemicals, and it also boosts production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters in the brain, including endorphins and catecholamines.

Teaching children how to express anger

Expressing anger appropriately is a learned behaviour. Suggestions on helping your child to deal with strong feelings include:

  • Lead by example.
  • Let them know that anger is natural and should be expressed appropriately.
  • Treat your child’s feelings with respect.
  • Teach practical problem-solving skills.
  • Encourage open and honest communication in the home.
  • Allow them to express their anger in appropriate ways.
  • Explain the difference between aggression and anger.
  • Have consequences for aggression or violence, but not appropriately expressed anger.
  • Teach your child different ways of calming and soothing themselves.

Where to get help

Stress, defined as emotional tension or mental strain, is all too common of a feeling for many of us.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the average stress level of adults in the United States in 2015 was 5.1 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Too much stress can produce both physical and emotional symptoms.

Let’s look at some of the emotional signs of stress and what you can do to reduce and manage them.W

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) defines diagnosed depression as an illness in which an individual experiences a persistent and severe low mood.

Researchers have found connections between high levels of stress and the onset of depression.

A 2020 animal study also suggested these connections, in addition to a protein in the brain that is important for the functions of both serotonin and for the release of stress hormones. This could have important implications for new treatments for depression.

Another 2015 observational study examined stress levels of the working age population, measuring participants’ overall stress levels and symptoms. Depression was more common in people who reported higher levels of stress.

Treatment

  • Reach out to a mental health professional.
  • Both psychotherapy and medication can be effective treatments.
  • Support groups, mindfulness techniques, and exercise may also help.

2. Anxiety

Anxiety differs from depression in that it’s characterized by feelings of overwhelming dread or fear.

However, like depression, studies have suggested that stress may be linked to anxiety and anxiety disorders.

In one 2015 study, researchers investigated the effects of stress levels at home and work on anxiety and depression levels. They found that people who experienced high levels of work stress were more likely to have more symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Treatment

  • Reach out to a mental health professional.
  • Treatment options include psychotherapy and medication.
  • Alternative and complementary treatments are also available.

3. Irritability

Irritability and anger can become common traits in people who are stressed.

In one older 2014 study, higher levels of anger were associated with both mental stress and the possibility of a stress-related heart attack.

Another study investigated the relationship between anger, depression, and stress levels in caretakers. The researchers found an association between care-related chronic stress and anger levels.

Treatment

  • A variety of strategies can help keep anger levels under control. Relaxation techniques, problem solving, and communication are all great methods for helping to curb anger.
  • Anger management techniques can help to reduce the stress in situations that’d normally leave you frustrated, tense, or angry.

4. Low sex drive

In some people, too much stress can have a negative impact on sex drive and the desire to be intimate.

A study published in 2014 found that chronic stress levels had a negative impact on sexual arousal. The research suggested that both high levels of cortisol and a higher chance of being distracted led to lower levels of arousal.

Much of the research surrounding stress and low libido involves women, but it can certainly affect others, too. One animal study showed that social stress during adolescence affected the sexual appetite of male hamsters during adulthood.

Treatment

  • Reducing stress can help to restore your sex drive and improve libido.
  • Self-care, relaxation techniques, and exercise are a few ways to raise self-confidence.
  • Improving communication with a sexual partner may improve intimacy and restore positive feelings towards sex.

5. Memory and concentration problems

If you find yourself having trouble with concentration and memory, stress may be a part of the problem.

A 2015 animal study found that adolescent rats exposed to acute stress experienced more memory performance issues than their non-stressed counterparts.

Another 2014 review investigated the stress-response pathways in the brain and their effect on long-term memory. Researchers found that certain hormones following a stressful or traumatic event can have the ability to impair memory.

Treatment

  • Various lifestyle changes may help improve memory.
  • Maintaining a balanced diet and keeping your body and mind active can keep you focused.
  • Avoiding activities like drinking and smoking can help keep your brain healthy.

6. Compulsive behavior

There has long been a link between stress and compulsive behaviors.

One paper expanded on the idea that stress-related changes in the brain may play a role in the development of addiction. According to the researchers, chronic stress can change the physical nature of the brain to promote habit- and addiction-forming behaviors.

Another 2018 study found more associations between stress response and addictive disorders as well as other health consequences.

Treatment

  • Healthy lifestyle habits can help to reduce compulsive behavior. For more serious compulsive behaviors, professional help may be necessary.
  • If you’re concerned about substance use, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has resources for starting on the road to recovery. These include lifestyle recommendations to help manage stress.

7. Changes in mood

The many emotional effects of stress can leave you feeling like you’re experiencing abrupt changes in mood.

One study from 2014 examined the role of various types of stress tests on physiology, mood, and cognition. The research showed that both social and physical stressors can have a big impact on emotional well-being and mood.

With the many emotional signs of stress, it’s easy to see the influence stress can have on your overall mood.

Treatment

There are many ways to improve your mood, such as:

  • reducing stress
  • enjoying nature
  • celebrating with friends
  • using mindfulness techniques

For more serious changes in mood that don’t seem to go away, reach out to a mental health professional for help.

Ways to manage and reduce your stress

Reducing the emotional symptoms of stress starts with reducing the sources of stress in your life.

The American Institute of Stress explains that while there are a variety of stress-reducing techniques, finding ones that work for you is important.

  • Physical activities such as running, jogging, and aerobics are a great way to physically relieve stress and tension.
  • Relaxing physical activities such as yoga or tai chi can help to work your body while relaxing your mind. Try these yoga poses to relieve stress.
  • Mindfulness techniques such as meditation can strengthen your emotional responses to stress.
  • Reducing stress in different areas of your life, when possible, can help to lessen your exposure to chronic stressors.
  • Mobile apps may calm your mind and offer guided conversations to help you manage stress and anxiety.

What’s the outlook?

Finding the stress-reducing techniques that work for you is an important step in decreasing emotional symptoms of stress.

Over time, you may find that your resolve against stress becomes stronger and that your symptoms improve.

However, if you find that you’re having trouble managing the emotional aspects of everyday or chronic stress, it may be best to reach out to a mental health professional.

Keep in mind that stress can also affect your physical health. It’s important to get help to stay in your best shape, emotionally and physically.

Online therapy options

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