What makes you angry?
You are not alone.
Are you angrier today than you were a year ago? If so, you’re not alone there, either.
According to a recent survey done by Esquire magazine and NBC News, half of all Americans are angrier today than they were a year ago.
I am among them.
I spent February through August of last year dealing with cancer. Naively, I thought that when the cancer was declared in remission, my life would resume normalcy. I did not think of lingering side effects from the cancer and chemotherapy and prolonged insurance appeals, not to mention any number of other discouragements we all inevitably face.
For me, one of those discouragements came along Nov. 14. I was stopped in traffic when the car behind me struck mine, knocking it into the trailer hitch of the pickup truck ahead of me. My car was totaled.
In a vacuum, I could have handled a totaled vehicle. But this wasn’t a vacuum. I was still receiving bills for tens of thousands of dollars that my insurance company had said in early October that it would pay — but it hadn’t even started reprocessing the bills yet. (I had hired an attorney to help me with my second-level appeal. I resented that extra expense to reach a conclusion that I thought obvious from the beginning.) The insurance representative who in late September apologized profusely to me and said she would be my advocate and gave me her direct phone number as well as the name of an associate so I could reach one of them at all times and said I should trust her to work on my behalf … hadn’t returned any of my subsequent phone calls.
Cancer killed much of the function and strength of my left hand, and during therapy to regain said function and strength, muscles in my left shoulder were torn and were causing periodic pain. And despite those months of occupational therapy, the ring finger of my left hand still wasn’t working properly; most vexing for a writer, it couldn’t clear the keyboard.
So by the time my car was totaled shortly before Thanksgiving, I was feeling anything but thankful. I.was.angry. I kept moving — I made contact with someone else at the insurance company, I continued occupational therapy, I saw a doctor about my torn rotator cuff, I replaced my car — but anger bubbled just below the surface.
When I saw an article about the anger survey (ironically, it had been conducted Nov. 20 to 24, when I was at my angriest) that was released in early January, I decided to write about it for this month’s column in The Herald and immediately made an appointment to talk with Jodi Richardson. Richardson, a licensed clinical social worker, is Memorial Hospital’s director of behavioral health and social work services.
She described anger as a “behavioral response” to stressors, mood disorders and/or events. It also is one of the five stages of grief as developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960s.
Anger needs to be talked about, vented, processed, Richardson said. Rhetorically, she asked, “Do you punch a wall or punch a punching bag? Do you tear somebody’s head off verbally, or do you go for a 3-minute walk?”
“It’s how you express that anger that can become unhealthy, “ she reminded me.
She said accumulating anger can be like a teapot. “If you don’t release that steam a little bit at a time, you’re going to blow.”
Janet Schnell, MSW, LSW, a staff therapist at Southern Hills Counseling Center, cautioned that when anger isn’t vented, it turns inward and can result in the individual becoming depressed.
Schnell said people tend to get most angry about things they can’t control. For many, daily life stressors that result in anger include illness, job and financial challenges and relationship problems.
Some of those in the Esquire/NBC News survey were angry because of extremely personal reasons, including fearing they couldn’t keep their children safe and realizing their lives weren’t working out as expected, as well as much broader issues, such as believing the U.S. is losing its place as a powerful world leader.
For some, seeing or reading about disheartening news events can cause anger. About a third of those surveyed reported feeling anger at news reports a few times a day, as opposed to once a week, once a month or even less often.
We are so wired to computers, smartphones, TVs and other conduits of media that we know instantly, and around the clock, when something bad happens in the world or in our county. It’s hard to avoid that while remaining an aware, engaged member of society.
So how do we combat the anger? More importantly, how do we prevent it from growing and turning us into angry people?
“It’s OK to be angry,” Schnell said, but added that it’s necessary to release that frustration and find healthy, effective ways to cope.
Richardson shared several suggestions, but foremost she said to focus on the good. Look at the lives of you and your loved ones, she said, and “celebrate the small successes. This can make the big, bad things feel less overwhelming.”
How to control anger
Celebrate small successes.
Vent, to another person or in a journal. If another person is involved, that person should know up front that you are not asking him or her to “fix” anything.
Think about what grounds you, and what gives you hope. Go there for help. For many, those roles are filled by faith and prayer.
Think back to what made you happy when you were young. What hobbies did you like? Did you like to draw, paint or color? Did you play a musical instrument?
Depending on the person, taking a bubble bath, cooking, reading and watching TV could be other calming activities.