People react differently when angry, some can get physical, using anything within their reach, like a glass or chair to lash out, others shout and scream, some cry in frustration, and others prefer to remain silent. I recently came across a Facebook post about a woman who poured acid on her husband for cheating on her. Looking at their photos before the incident, you can barely identify the man now. He was left blind with multiple disfigurements on his face and body. This unfortunate incident is a case of anger control. If anger is not managed, the consequences can be lethal. According to Yvonne Uwamahoro, a counsellor at mHub Rwanda, a mental health clinic in Kicukiro, anger is a normal, healthy emotion, neither good nor bad. Like any emotion, it conveys a message, telling you that a situation is upsetting, unjust, or threatening. If your knee-jerk reaction to anger is to explode, however, that message never has a chance to be conveyed. So, while it’s perfectly normal to feel angry when you’ve been mistreated or wronged, anger becomes a problem when you express it in a way that harms yourself or others. Celestin Mutuyimana, a clinical psychologist at Baho-Ubudaheranwa Clinic, Gikondo, says that anger is an emotion characterised by hostility towards someone or something you believe has intentionally wronged you. For example, it may allow a person to express negative feelings or motivate them to find solutions to problems. However, excessive anger can cause various psychological and physical problems that can lead to an inability to think clearly and affect one’s physical and mental health. He notes that the expression of anger is an important factor in determining whether or not anger is pathological. Mutuyimana believes that the two major “red flags” that anger has reached an extreme level are aggression which is physical or verbal behaviour that is intended to hurt, and violence which is behaviour that intentionally culminates in actual physical injury or damage. “In the inward expression, a person engages in negative self-talk, denies things that make him happy, even basic needs like food, hurts themselves, and isolates themselves from others. In outward expression, there may also be violent and aggressive behaviour that manifests itself through yelling, swearing, throwing or breaking objects, or verbally or physically insulting others. With passive expression of anger, people tend to express their anger in subtle and indirect ways. Examples of passive-aggressive behaviour include silence, pouting, sarcasm, and snide remarks,” he says. Mutuyimana says that in addition to aggression and violence, normal or pathological anger is accompanied by various symptoms, such as irritability, headaches, increased blood pressure, muscle tension, frustration, guilt, and, in very angry people, rage. Warning signs Uwamahoro says that the warning signs are the things you feel, think, say, and do when you are getting angry. For instance, physically, there is a racing heart rate, tightness in the chest, sweating or shaking, clenched jaw, fast breathing, headache, upset stomach, tense muscles, frowning or scowling and turning red in the face. She adds that there is a feeling of disrespect or humiliation, guilt, insecurity, jealousy or rejection, abandonment and even fear. Uwamahoro notes that thoughts can be of hurting someone, wanting to teach someone a lesson, thinking someone is rude on purpose, thinking about seeking revenge and thinking something bad happening. And then there is behaviour, like clenched fists, yelling, pacing, slamming doors and pounding or hitting on things. Becoming aware of your anger is a key step to managing your expression of it, she says. Likely dangers “Constantly operating at high levels of stress and anger makes you more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, a weakened immune system, insomnia, and high blood pressure. For mental health, chronic anger consumes huge amounts of mental energy, and clouds your thinking, making it harder to concentrate or enjoy life. It can also lead to stress, depression, and other mental health problems,” Uwamahoro says. At the workplace, she says, it could be lashing out at colleagues, supervisors, or even clients. And in personal relationships, the counsellor says, explosive anger makes it hard for others to trust you, speak honestly, or feel comfortable around you, and is especially damaging to children. How to control or manage anger Mutuyimana explains that when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems—problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you’re at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful force. “If you think your anger is out of control or is negatively affecting your life or relationships, you should see a psychiatrist or mental health professional. They can help you determine if you have a disorder causing your anger to be intense,” Mutuyimana says. However, he notes, there are things that can help you manage your anger, for example, figure out what triggers your anger and then develop strategies to prevent it from upsetting you, think before you speak, express your anger once you have calmed down, exercise, take time out, find possible solutions to the trigger, and use humour to relieve tension. Uwamahoro recommends a few things, for example, imagine a relaxing scene, stop talking, repeat a calming word or phrase, such as, “take it easy”, listen to music, write in a journal, walk around, and stretch or massage areas of tension. Roll your shoulders if you are tensing them, for example, or gently massage your neck and scalp. Physical activity releases pent-up energy so you can approach the situation with a cooler head and take a timeout by giving yourself a break. Causes Uwamahoro says that stress, family problems, and financial issues, relationship issues, underlying issues such as alcoholism, depression can cause anger. Mutuyimana says that anger drives efforts to remove obstacles to goal achievement. Thus, when expressed appropriately, anger can have a functional benefit by removing obstacles to goal achievement. However, some people have difficulty expressing their anger appropriately and are hindered in their efforts to remove these obstacles. This can be a particular problem for people with passive-aggressive tendencies. “The most important thing to do is to recognise what triggers the anger. If you are angry at someone, consider talking it out when you’ve calmed down. Don’t fight to win. Be patient, think before you speak or act. Seek a healthy distraction such as reading or watching something funny. If the anger persists, consider chatting with a professional,” Uwamahoro says.