When Stress Leads to Anger

Medical Reviewer

In a recent survey of working mothers nearly 90 percent stated that stress is a major cause of them shouting at their children, so what's happening? I don't think it's a particularly recent issue but that doesn't make it any less of a problem. When stress spills over into anger it affects everyone, not least children who may bear the brunt directly or have to listen to anger and conflict between adults.

Anger management consultants often point to the personal demands we place on ourselves. We can appear out of step with the relatively smooth running of modern life. Those apps that tell us where the nearest café, item of clothing, or friend is. But this is coupled with the ever-present pressure points - the need to look good, the nice house, high work standards, and so on.

When my daughter was still at school I would drop her off and then go on to work. It was a three-mile journey, much of which was spent nose to tail in slow moving traffic. One morning a vehicle attempted to nose its way in front of me.  When I looked up at the driver I could see a young red-faced woman yelling at me at the top of her voice - which irritated me and so I stood my ground. The traffic moved forward and she squeezed out behind me, still raging, and drove on the wrong side of the road until she relied on the goodwill of another driver to allow her in just a few cars in front. It just so happened that we arrived at the same place at the same time to drop our kids off. We had cross words in front of other children who were arriving and listening to the whole thing unfold. It was immature and unnecessary and we should both have been ashamed of ourselves. Yet with hindsight I can see how easily it happened and I like to think that at a different time and in a different context my adversary was probably a very nice person.

These days we compartmentalize anger. We talk of office rage, road rage, TV rage, sports rage and so on. But it's all anger despite the fact the triggers may differ. During anger our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode, releasing hormones, fats and sugars in readiness. They also release the stress hormone cortisol and heart rate and blood-pressure increases. Anger isn't good for us so if a stressful life is a major contributor to anger, action needs to be taken.

There are two basic approaches to anger management. One is via some form of professional counseling and the other is via self-help strategies. We should start by looking at our lives and pinpointing those areas that could be relaxed. For example, do you really need to dust and polish every room in the house every day? Are you taking too much on - if so - what can be dropped, shared, redesigned and so on. There are also many stress reduction techniques involving exercise, meditation, relaxation, mindfulness just waiting to be used. Step back from situations to see things from another person's perspective - it's a more adaptive way of dealing with tension. Learn to say no if your default position is yes. Leave the ironing if it comes on top of an already bad day. Boiling over is an indication that you are out of control and highly stressed. Use stress management techniques and professional resources at your disposal in order to put some balance back into your life.