The holidays are all fun and games until somebody brings up politics. As much as we love our families, get-togethers and other traditions can also be sources of tremendous stress for us. It may help to bone up on the nature of anger.
Every family has its touchy subjects. Whether it’s Capitol Hill, religion, the black sheep of the family, chosen career paths, or sports teams, it’s likely that you’ve been in a car that’s almost reached a relative’s house and you’ve either told someone—or been told by someone—which topics of conversation to avoid once you commence visiting. It’s almost as likely that you’ve sat at a dinner table at which someone didn’t get the memo. Other times, stress rears its ugly head while shopping for the right gift or keeping the green bean casserole from burning and we find ourselves getting angry. Whatever the cause, holidays can bring out the worst in us, and some of our coping mechanisms are healthier than others.
Anger and the Body
In order to healthily process anger as an emotion, it’s important to understand what role it plays in our lives.
“When people [say] ‘I feel angry,’ they notice tension in their shoulders, in the back of the neck, the jaw, sometimes even in their fists,” said Juna Mustad, corporate mindfulness coach and author. “Anger tends to reside in these areas of the body, and in my experience, it can also cause issues in these areas. Undigested anger, or unmetabolized anger, can actually cause issues in our body that hang around.”
“And being someone who had chronic TMJ, acid reflux, and neck issues, yes, I can say that I can certainly attest that this certainly happens.”
However, Mustad said, anger itself is a form of protection. “Anger is protection of self, other, or that which we care for most,” she said. “Anger is our boundaries.”
Building a Relationship with Anger
Like every emotion, anger serves a purpose in our lives. It may not be apparent, since anger makes us want to yell or hit something, but knowing that anger is “us trying to protect something” can give us a clue as to its purpose.
“What must be protected?” Mustad asked. “What must be restored?” By considering these questions, we can properly aim our anger at its source and protect whatever we’re afraid of losing. In that way, anger is a gift of awareness and preservation.
Anger can also give us surprising gifts. “Anger can illuminate our boundaries, our authentic ‘no,’ and our unclaimed power,” Mustad said. “Another gift of anger is that it can inspire us into action, to take a stand for the things we care for most. If we feel that there is some kind of injustice happening, anger is that motivating energy to take action, to start a movement, to make a change.”
By identifying and accepting anger as a part of ourselves, rather than suppressing it or acting out violently, we can take advantage of our awareness and use it to focus on why we’re so upset and how to fix it the right way. Whether that anger comes from misbehaving children, sassy siblings, or overbearing parents this week, it’s worth asking yourself what needs protection and why your alarm bells are ringing.
Juna Mustad contributed to this article. Mustad is a corporate mindfulness coach, an author, and an expert in mindful anger. She is also a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and has trained extensively in stress and trauma resolution.