What Is Anger?

Everyone knows the feeling. It's that rage that rises when a driver is cut off on the highway—and just wants to floor it and flip the bird. Anger is a corrosive emotion that can run off with a person's mental and physical health. Is holding it in the solution? Or letting it all out? Anger doesn't dissipate just because it is unleashed; in fact, that just rehearses it. However raw it can be, anger is a necessary emotion, serves mankind well in certain situations, and like all emotions, benefits from good management lest it cause self-harm or erupt into hostile, aggressive, or perhaps even violent behavior toward others.

Anger is considered one of the basic emotions, along with happiness, sadness, anxiety, and disgust. Researchers posit that these emotions have served a protective purpose over the long course of human history. In particular, anger is related to the “fight, flight, or freeze” response of the sympathetic nervous system; it prepares human faculties for the first option—to fight. But fighting doesn't necessarily mean throwing punches; it might motivate communities to combat injustice by changing laws or intentionally shifting norms of behavior. Of course, anger too easily or frequently mobilized can undermine relationships and, studies show, it is deleterious to bodies in the long term. Prolonged release of the stress hormones that accompany anger can destroy neurons in areas of the brain associated with judgment and short-term memory, and it can weaken the immune system.

When Anger Becomes a Disorder

Everyone experiences anger at some point in life. It becomes problematic, however, when the frequency or severity of anger interferes with relationships, work performance, legal standing, or mental health. While there is no official “anger disorder,” dysfunctional anger can be associated with manic episodes, Borderline Personality Disorder, and the impulse-control condition Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Anger doesn't require formal diagnosis to be disruptive or to benefit from help in its management. Support groups are available in many cities. In group or individual settings, cognitive restructuring may be helpful, which coaches patients on reframing unhealthy, inflammatory thoughts.

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