Pittsburgh Magazine: Why It’s So Important to Know What Emotions Are Triggering Your Anger
Anger is a surface emotion that typically masks deeper, underlying emotions. Learn how to recognize them and keep yourself from reaching your boiling point.
Life seems to become more stressful each year.
With stress and other things life can throw at us, it’s no surprise anger issues affect many Americans, especially in the last three years as the country emerges from the pandemic.
According to 2019 statistics compiled by The Zebra and the National Library of Medicine, roughly 7.8% of U.S. residents have intense, poorly controlled or inappropriate levels of anger, and 82% of U.S. drivers reported committing an act of road rage, as cited by Strive Psychiatry.
The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder says high levels of anger relate to your natural survival instinct.
“Anger is also a common response to events that seem unfair or in which you have been made a victim. Research shows that anger can be especially common if you have been betrayed by others. This may be most often seen in cases of trauma that involve exploitation or violence,” the website reads.
Lauren C. Pulinka, mental health program coordinator at St. Clair Health, says when speaking to patients about anger, it’s important to teach them that anger is a surface emotion.
“Think of an iceberg,” she says. “Envision anger as the teeny, tiny tip that’s visible on the surface. That anger is covering up the more vulnerable emotions that lie underneath the surface, like insecurity, depression, loneliness, fear and helplessness.”
For tips on using the Anger Iceberg to work through conflict and emotions, see this mindbodygreen article.
Pulinka says the first step to managing your emotions is to build your awareness of them by noting what you’re feeling when you become angry, what is causing you to feel that way and the triggers that cause you to feel angry.
“I ask patients to identify a situation that causes them stress and if they list anger as an emotion, I have them dig deeper and choose what’s underneath that anger,” she explains.
It is also important to catch your anger before you reach boiling point by recognizing your body’s cues, such as flushed cheeks and an elevated heart rate.
“I also advise patients to come up with a coping skill to make them feel better in that moment,” she says. “It can be anything from taking a break from an argument, to petting an animal, to taking a walk or talking to a close friend outside of the situation.”
Other coping mechanisms could include journaling or exercising.
She suggests open communication with the people around you to help keep those feelings at bay.
“Anger has become more prevalent in the last few years,” Pulinka adds. “It also seems to be more socially acceptable nowadays than other emotions like sadness. We’ve also seen a rise in some mental health issues since the pandemic and a lot of folks’ daily stress has increased.”
She says males more commonly express their feelings as anger, particularly because of stereotypes against men expressing sadness and other emotions.
One way to break this stigma is to encourage men to speak with other men in their lives and be more open, letting them know this is a safe space where they can express their vulnerability with trusted people around them.
Pulinka says children who struggle with controlling their anger are encouraged to talk about their feelings with a trusted adult or friend, and let them know it’s OK for them to be feeling deeper feelings and express those feelings.
She adds managing emotions to prevent escalation is key for everyone.
“Self-care is very important,” she says. “Find something to do on a daily basis that makes you feel emotionally stable, whether that’s following a routine, getting exercise, making sure you make time for you. This will help you be more equipped and calmer to handle these situations when they come up instead of just reacting.”
Speaking with a mental health professional that specializes in anger management may also be helpful.
Pulinka stresses to those who may be hesitant to see someone that anger is more common than they think it is.
“We have people who come in from all walks of life,” she assures. “We’ve all been through a lot over the last few years and you don’t have to deal with this yourself.”
For more tips on overcoming anger issues, read this blog written by Abbigail Rinard for the Counseling & Wellness Center of Pittsburgh.