Everyone has triggers of things which annoy them. Everyone has a tipping point of what would make them loose their cool. Some people manage to stay relatively balanced; their anger is a frown and an eye roll. Some people are “hot headed”; they are easily angered and doesn’t everyone else know about it.
Maybe they shout and stomp, maybe they break things, maybe they are violent.
Maybe this is someone you know. Maybe this is you.
Often it is hard to know how to stop the anger from coming out. This is not because you are weak – there are really good scientific reasons for it which we will talk about in this article including some of the things which can help.
First here is a poem written to describe how it feels to be so hot headed and exploring the impact.
I am a volcano infernopoem, by Louis
With a rumbling psycho deathblow
And a slow burning afterglow flow
Don’t swallow the snow topped bravado
As the “cheerio” status quo show
My foes know my turbo blow
When I bellow and overshadow.
Although I mellow as Romeo
With libido, this desperado
Can bow to Cupid’s arrow as beau
Aglow? No. Just a cameo
Follow till my halo is hollow
Reveal my shadow antihero
Then you go incommunicado
With a pumped up torso and hypo airflow
I Krakow at fellow, amigo or bro
I bestow a crescendo of aggro
Turbo a day ago? More tomorrow
This aggro leaves me solo and low
Burnt out yet smouldering. Blown up yet active.
Not in control
Everyone’s volcano will erupt in a slightly different way and you may not share all of Louis metaphor but perhaps you can recognise your own pattern? If this resonated why not take a moment to write your own anger poem using whatever imagery, rhyme scheme or structure works best for you. You can share them in the comments if you would like to.
Science of Anger
Fight, Flight or Freeze
Anger is one of the ways our body defends itself. Thinking about our earliest ancestors, if in their travels they met a lion, tiger or bear they had to be able to survive. Our bodies have three top tricks for survival:
But this had to be a super quick reaction. If a tiger thinks you are lunch you don’t have time to weigh up your options, you have to pick one now. So your brain has a cool trick when faced with threats – it lets a part of the brain called the amygdala make some fast decisions for you. This is a really old part of the brain – cavemen had this part before the evolving other parts, babies have this part before other parts develop. More instinct than reason, this part (with a few other parts) takes control and tells you exactly how to respond. Are you going to try to fight off the tiger, are you going to run for your life away from the tiger, or are you going to play dead and hope the tiger decides you are not fresh enough to be food.
Hot headed usually comes into the fight category but for some people it could be a second or even third strategy. Maybe you tried ignoring whatever triggered you, maybe you tried walking away and it followed you. Maybe only then did you explode.
Being angry much mean you can beat the opponent or it might just mean you can make yourself a less obvious target so that the threat will back off.
But most of the time the things that trigger us are not man eating tigers. Often they are not even life or death situations. Maybe you are yelling because of a difference of opinion. Maybe you are shouting because someone let you down. Maybe you are breaking something in frustration because it is not quite right or because you could not do it properly. So what is going on here?
Brains have fast lanes
Our brains have another trick. Once they find a strategy that works, they like to copy it and use it in lots of similar situations. These become like fast lanes which our brains can use to go quickly from situation to response. This is one of the reasons you train to go into the army or revise for and exam or practice a new skill – you are trying to get from having to think carefully about something to being able to do it automatically without thinking.
Only sometimes, when we think about this, the situation we face now is not so similar to the original situation. Think about a baby – if their carer leaves the room they often cry. Mum or dad is the person who keeps them safe, feeds them, comforts them, protects them. For that special person to go away could mean the end of the world for that baby. But later, if the friend ditches us for their new romantic interest, we don’t need them in the same way but our brain might still see the same pattern “Someone I love has let me down. I should go to the angry protest pattern to get them back – it worked on mum all those years ago.”
This is one of the reasons why “take a deep breath” before responding is given as advice, it gives our brains a couple of seconds to check the rational. Is this really like the other time? The deep breath also gives us the bonus of air which can tip the hormone balance in the brain back towards rational decisions.
Trauma or prolonged stress
If you have experienced trauma or grown up in a stressful situation you may be more prone to being hot headed than people who have not had similar experiences. If you have grown up watching someone else use anger regularly as a way of coping with life, it is more likely you could learn similar traits. Other changes to life situations (going through puberty, changing job, moving house) could also cause stress and make hot headedness more likely as when under pressure, it is easier for the scales to tip from in control to out of control.
What can help?
Knowing what triggers you is an important step. Reflecting for yourself on any similar memories or feelings. Look out for your own brains super fast lanes.
Keep an anger journal or write poems or compose songs or draw pictures about times when you feel angry. Creative outlets might make it easier to look for any feelings hiding underneath the anger such as fear or sadness. Be curious about these underlying feelings – what does this part of you need?
If you want to learn any skill you have to practice. Anger management is no different. You need to help your brain make some new super fast lanes which don’t drive you straight to anger.
Some people find yoga or meditation can help with practicing being calm. Other people find relaxation helpful (can you think about doing a deep breath or unclenching your hands or even moving your tongue down from the roof of your mouth).
Drama can be a great way to practice different reactions as it gives you a chance to rehearse things in many different ways. Some people find imagining useful even in real situations – if I was superman how would I respond to this thing which is triggering me?
Top tip – don’t practice “not being angry”. Your brain is not great at thinking about negatives. Don’t picture a pink elephant! Are you thinking about a pink elephant? Your brain hears “not” or “don’t” but often still thinks about whatever comes after. Instead, try to practice what you do want to do instead.
Other people feel this way too. And even more people have felt this way at some point.
Don’t be afraid to tell people you are trying to change but need their patience and support. Maybe even join a support group with others who are also looking at anger management.
Play It Through are running a London group for young people in year 7-9 during February half term. You can find out more here. There will be other groups and forms of support if you look.
You might not see an immediate change, it could take a while to master those feelings. But don’t give up!
Let me know in the comments which of the tips you are going to try and I would love to see any pictures or poems you have made about your anger.
Come back tomorrow where we will be looking at “Hiding the real me”