Anxiety, Anger and Depression – The Holy Trinity of Human Survival – P2
Written by Graham McDowell – Mindfulness Coach, Solution Focused Hypnotherapist & Psychotherapist and Founder of Monkey Mind Ltd, a company that provides organisations and individuals with specialist resources to measure, understand and improve mental wellbeing.
In this three part series, I hope to make the case for why anxiety, anger and depression, ought to be considered as the holy trinity of human survival, instead of being exclusively spoken of as unwanted illnesses or disorders.
When we covered anxiety in part 1 I mentioned that in the vast majority of my 750 client sessions per year, anxiety was a headline issue. Anger on the other hand is not as widely spoken about although in a majority of cases, if there is anxiety present, anger is often not far away.
Maybe one reason that it’s not as freely discussed is that anger is less socially acceptable than anxiety so people are less likely to volunteer that they frequently experience the emotion. Another reason though is that there are many other ways of expressing the emotion without using the word anger.
We might say “I’m really mad!” or “I’m so cross!” or “I’m very annoyed!” all of which might be considered more socially acceptable and less threatening than “I’m really angry!” whilst basically meaning the same thing. But the bottom line is that anger is an ever-present part of our society so it’s really important that we understand what it is and why we experience it.
Now in part 1 on anxiety we travelled back 10,000 years to visit one of your ancestors who whilst walking through a forest heard a twig snap, leading to their limbic system releasing neurotransmitters to get their attention and prepare them for dealing with a potential threat.
Lets now carry on the story and say that after the twig snapped, hunters from a neighbouring tribe came into view carrying clubs. Your ancestor had their child with them and the neighbours looked set to attack. Your relative was afraid and not prone to aggression, so would not easily attack another, so this survival mechanism once again kicks in and supplies a mix of neurotransmitters that lead to anger.
Pupils dilate, heart rate quickens, focus is concentrated on the threat and fear and empathy disappear, meaning your ancestor now picks up a rock and bludgeons the attackers, saving themselves, their offspring and subsequently ensuring your existence, all through the effective use of anger.
But again we can see that anger is a perfectly natural emotion that has helped ensure our survival but in the same way as anxiety, it becomes an issue when we don’t really understand it and haven’t learned how to manage it or you could say, we need to understand when anger is and is not an appropriate emotion.
So, let’s look at what causes us to become angry, or even cross, mad and annoyed. Obviously it could be because we are being physically attacked, in which case it’s probably an appropriate response but consider for a moment what usually triggers you into anger.
Of course it will be personal for everyone and the potential causes are endless, but when you are becoming angry and anger is clearly not the most appropriate response, you might notice a common theme and that is quite simply that you do not want to accept what is happening and you want the situation to be different than it is.
In other words you are in resistance to the reality of what is, you are in effect saying no to whatever is unfolding in the present moment and when you take a closer look at any of these situations you will discover that what is actually causing the tension within you, is not the situation itself, but your resistance to it, and the greater your level of resistance, the greater the tension and this then becomes the source of the anger.
So the reason we get angry when anger is not the appropriate response, is because we have a belief that things should be different than they are, and the stronger the belief, the greater the resistance which brings us to consider belief systems.
Have you ever noticed how often you might believe you are right about something and someone else is wrong? Now some of you might even read the last line and think “I don’t believe I’m right, I know I’m right!” and if you did, that’s your belief system in action.
You see our belief systems are so powerful that countless wars have been fought because of them. You only have to look at the worlds of politics and religion to see what happens when a person or group of people believe something and others believe something else. They all believe they are right, but it’s patently obvious that’s not possible.
Now one of the other factors about anger is that when these powerful neurotransmitters are released into your system, they can take hours or even days to subside completely and whilst they are still present in your system, it’s much easier for you to become angry again.
So if you find yourself regularly in situations where you want things to be different, or you believe you are right about something and others are wrong, you may find anger comes easier and quicker and stays longer, because just as with anxiety, your survival mechanism is learning and saying “hey I’m doing a good job” so it does it more and more.
But as with anxiety, in my experience, through education and practicing certain techniques in daily life, we can ensure that inappropriate anger becomes well managed, which leaves us with the ability to freely exercise our natural ability to become angry when it’s appropriate, because this valuable survival mechanism that we inherited from our ancestors can still be essential for us even today.
If this piece was of interest, please look out for the companion articles on Anxiety and Depression and also for the related article on The Stress Response, which explains that we suffer so much because we are the only species that can trigger the stress response through thought alone.