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Anger

7 Reasons Everyone Seems So Angry All the Time

The world is getting angrier. Understanding why gives us a fighting chance.

Key points

  • You may have experienced the world's increase in anger while driving, flying, or waiting in line.
  • Understanding the reasons for this uptick in anger is key to addressing it.
  • Through proactive management, we can help address anger in ourselves and reduce its impact on our world.
Source: Tumisu / Pixabay
Source: Tumisu / Pixabay

Last week, I lost my cool with a customer service representative on the phone. This week, I became frustrated with a fellow motorist. I made a gesture. No, not that gesture, more of a “What are you doing?” gesture. I immediately felt bad about both incidents. In the latter example, the motorist pulled into my son’s school. The car held an older couple, probably grandparents. I had become frustrated with a nice couple who were probably picking up their grandchild. It was time to ask myself that same question: What are you doing?

In an effort to turn the above events into something productive, I decided to investigate the topic of anger. I am a psychologist who literally teaches stress management to medical students and psychiatry residents. Every day, I help my patients cope more effectively with their stressors, including their anger. Sure, I am human, too, but if I am losing my cool, exactly how common is it?

The worldwide trend has been decidedly up. So, yes, the world is getting angrier. According to Gallup’s Global Emotions report, negative emotions remained at their highest level in 2023 (tied with 2022). Anger is a piece of this data, and it remains near an all-time high worldwide.

In the United States, air rage incidents have been trending up according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The roads are not faring much better with Consumer Affairs noting that 92 percent of Americans witnessed a road rage incident last year.

Following are some likely culprits related to why we are feeling angrier. At the end, I offer suggestions that you may be able to employ to help you cool off when you are feeling angry.

So, first off, why are we so angry?

  • We are tired. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three American adults report not getting enough sleep every day. The same document added that about 40 percent of adults report falling asleep during the day without meaning to at least once per month. Nearly half of us fall asleep during the day regularly? I was shocked by this. Since studies indicate that poor sleep is also predictive of more intense experiences of negative affect, especially anger, this is not a good sign for interpersonal harmony.
  • We are overwhelmed. If your week is anything like mine, you have been bombarded by more emails each day than you can realistically sort through. According to Venngage, the average person receives 121 emails per day. True, most are probably insignificant, but some really matter. This requires us to remain vigilant so important notices do not go unnoticed. This state of constant arousal is stressful. As an example, my wife and I missed a re-enrollment deadline for our son’s school because we missed the email(s). So, the takeaway is that we need to stay on top of something that is nearly impossible to stay on top of or bad things will happen.
  • We are afraid. The media plays a big role in this one, although so does reality. In my home city, Washington, DC, carjackings have been up for six straight years. According to a media report, these crimes can happen “anywhere and at any time.” Talk about fear-inducing. Some other crime statistics are actually down both in DC and cities throughout the United States, so it is a mixed bag. However, just watching the news is enough to scare someone. Since studies show a “fear promotes anger” model in the brain (especially the posterior insula and anterior insula), fear is a bad state to remain in from an anger management standpoint.
  • We are hot. According to climate.gov, this was the warmest year on record, and that trend is likely to continue, unfortunately. Researchers have predicted that the climate crisis will “dramatically increase humans' exposure to risk factors known to cause aggressive and violent behavior” (Miles-Novelo & Anderson, 2023). In other words, the hotter the world becomes, the hotter we become, most likely.
  • We are stuck in a zero-sum game. I used to tell my patients that life is not a zero-sum game, to take some pressure off them. While this remains true in many instances, the stakes are getting higher, unfortunately. By way of example, a neighbor asked me which camps I am putting my children in this summer. When I named a few possibilities, he said something like, “Oh, if you haven’t booked those yet, it’s too late.” This was in February. Other cities are similarly competitive. Just try getting last-minute reservations at that popular new restaurant. Yeah, it’s booked. If you go to church late on a holiday, good luck getting a parking spot or a seat. Life has indeed become more competitive, which creates tension, a precursor for anger when things do not work out.
  • We are broke. Just as things are getting more competitive, they are similarly becoming more expensive. One does not need to look at inflation statistics to realize this. We just need to go to the supermarket or book a vacation. Not surprisingly, financial worries have been linked to greater psychological distress. Since anger can be a symptom of many psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychological distress and anger can go hand in hand.
  • We are in pain. According to the 2023 Gallup Global Emotions report, nearly one-third of the world is in physical pain daily. While this is tragic, it is also contributes to anger in the world. Not surprisingly, studies document the link between chronic pain and the experience of anger. If you have ever been in pain, I am sure you can relate that it takes a toll on one’s mood to be suffering. It is very relevant to my own recent expressions of anger that I am recovering from surgery and have been in pain.

Making Peace With Ourselves and Others

It is tempting to despair, given the pervasiveness of the challenges that contribute to anger in our world and ourselves. The problem seems overwhelming. The best place to start, as is often the case, is with ourselves. Fortunately, we are not entirely helpless over these factors. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Be kind to yourself. This is more than a “nice to have”; it is crucial for managing anger and well-being. Studies show that self-compassion can contribute to better mental health and improved sleep. In contrast, self-criticism can lead to adverse impacts in both. To move beyond anger, a lifestyle involving self-compassion and self-care appears to be key. Healthy behaviors such as regular exercise, proper diet, progressive breathing, and mindfulness are key ways to promote self-care and, of course, are healing in their own right.
  • Forgive yourself, forgive others. Just as self-compassion can improve well-being, as noted above, mercy toward others can do the same. One way to do this is forgiveness. The opposite of forgiveness is holding onto a wrong, a heavy psychological burden. The way to let go is through forgiveness. Studies support this, including a recent mediation analysis that found that forgiveness has a positive relationship with both anger reduction and hope. Further, these mediating factors can indirectly affect psychological health. All that to say, forgiveness is healthy. I remind patients regularly that forgiving someone does not mean that you condone their problematic behavior or even that they need to remain in your life. It simply means that you choose to let it go for your own well-being.
  • STOP. This simple acronym can be helpful in situations in which you feel triggered. It consists of: Stop, Take a Breath, Observe, Proceed. Anger can be instantaneous. That is why we talk about a “flash” of anger. If we are able to build in even a few seconds before action, we may be able to alter our response to something more productive. Remember, anger is a normal human emotion. It is not necessarily anger that is the problem. Rather, it is the response to the emotion that can become destructive. With the above tools, it is realistic to reduce the negative impact of anger on our own lives and those of others.

Facebook image: airdone/Shutterstock

References

Adachi T, Yamada K, Fujino H, Enomoto K, Shibata M. Associations between anger and chronic primary pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Scand J Pain. 2021 Dec 15;22(1):1–13. doi: 10.1515/sjpain-2021-0154. PMID: 34908255.

Audigier, A., Glass, S., Slotter, E. B., & Pantesco, E. (2023). Tired, angry, and unhappy with us: Poor sleep quality predicts increased anger and worsened perceptions of relationship quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 40(12), 3803–3831. https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075231193449.

Kim JJ, Payne ES, Tracy EL. Indirect Effects of Forgiveness on Psychological Health Through Anger and Hope: A Parallel Mediation Analysis. J Relig Health. 2022 Oct;61(5):3729–3746. doi: 10.1007/s10943-022-01518-4. Epub 2022 Feb 21. PMID: 35190955; PMCID: PMC10120569.

Miles-Novelo A, Anderson CA. Avoiding a Grim Future: The Climate Crisis and Its Effects on Human Aggression and Violence. Adv Environ End Res 2023; 4(2): 034; doi:10.21926/aeer.2302034.

Ryu S, Fan L. The Relationship Between Financial Worries and Psychological Distress Among U.S. Adults. J Fam Econ Issues. 2023;44(1):16–33. doi: 10.1007/s10834-022-09820-9. Epub 2022 Feb 1. PMID: 35125855; PMCID: PMC8806009.

Zhan J, Ren J, Sun P, Fan J, Liu C, Luo J. The Neural Basis of Fear Promotes Anger and Sadness Counteracts Anger. Neural Plast. 2018 Jun 14;2018:3479059. doi: 10.1155/2018/3479059. PMID: 30013595; PMCID: PMC6022272.

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