If you feel emotionally pummeled by any of this, you aren’t alone. Survey after survey shows that we’re sad, and worried, and stressed—and furious. That’s why, when we started discussing anger at SELF a few months ago, I felt some solace. Our editors opened up to each other about the last time they were consumed by anger and shared the feelings that accompanied it: anxiety, grief, guilt, fear, helplessness, depression. Sound familiar?
We kept coming back to a couple of key questions: What can our anger tell us? And how can we turn it into something meaningful? Those are the questions we’ll be trying to answer all week. Our editorial package, All the Rage, dives deep into this often-taboo emotion, in all its complexity and messiness. (To be clear, this is an exploration of moral anger. We’re not publishing this package to justify the behavior of hot-headed folks who have taken to screaming at service workers just trying to do their jobs or the politicians who spew self-serving propaganda after narrowly losing an election.)
For this collection of 10 articles, our writers and editors talked to 20+ experts about the science of anger. In these articules, you’ll find actionable, empathetic advice about how to turn your anger into action, no matter the circumstances. Here are three key themes to expect:
Acknowledging your anger
In a forthcoming article about how therapists cope during fits of frustration, Jessi Gold, MD, says it best: “What I need is to just be angry, call it anger, and not judge myself for it.”
When I let my anger get the best of me, I almost always feel ashamed once I start to cool down, but the experts SELF spoke with have reassuring things to say here: It’s okay to just feel it if you need to—ideally while you mentally or physically remove yourself from the rage-inducing situation and before you take it out on others.
When you take the time to reflect on your anger, you have the opportunity to ask yourself what, exactly, is at the heart of it. Are you deeply sad about something? Do you feel overwhelmed? Is mounting stress catching up with you? Or are you just genuinely mad? Recognizing your anger for what it is can be a valuable step in figuring out what you need to move forward.
Using madness as motivation
Whatever’s triggering your anger, you can harness that explosive energy into something good, either for yourself or your community—ideally both. As psychologist Ryan Martin, PhD, author of Why We Get Mad: How to Use Your Anger for Positive Change, says in a forthcoming article about how anger can affect your health, “Anger alerts us to a potential injustice, and it energizes us to confront that injustice.”
This could mean seeking therapy because you’re having a hard time keeping your anger under control, or this could look like engaging in activism so you can get involved with a cause you’re fiercely passionate about. If issues like climate change, gun violence, racial injustice, or lack of access to affordable, equitable health care infuriate you, for example, chances are there are other people who feel the same way and who are taking action. “Being in community is a way to navigate rage,” psychologist Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, PhD, previously told SELF. “Rage is not just an individual experience; it is a communal, collective experience.”
Taking care of yourself
Like all intense emotions, anger’s effects can go beyond your mind. Your physical body will feel the stress too, so it’s imperative to be gentle with yourself. When you can’t seem to get out of your head, do something—anything—that feels soothing. If you have a second to simply pay attention to your breath, do a mental body scan or go for a slow walk in a calming environment, you may be surprised to realize that you’re super hungry, exhausted from lack of sleep, or restless from spending too many hours at your desk.
You can’t help yourself or be there for your community if you don’t practice self-care. That’s something my anxiety has taught me too. After my last panic attack, the rage eventually retreated (and, not to worry, I took it as my sign to find a new therapist). Now, when those uncomfortable feelings swell to the surface, I try to pay close attention to the anger in particular, because I know it’s trying to tell me something. Anger is a flashing signal that helps us survive—but only if we listen to it.
You can read more content from All the Rage here. SELF will be publishing new articles about anger all week.
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