Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Anger Cycle

Anger can be an incredibly damaging force, costing people their jobs, personal relationships, and even their lives when it gets out of hand. Since everyone experiences anger, it is important to have constructive approaches to manage it effectively. 

It can be helpful to first understand the nature of anger. While most are familiar with this emotion, not everyone is aware of its underlying dynamics. 

Anger is a natural emotion that usually stems from perceived threat or loss. It’s a pervasive emotion; it affects our body, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Anger is often described in terms of its intensity, frequency, duration, threshold, and expression.

Anger typically follows a predictable pattern: a cycle. Understanding the cycle of anger can help us understand our own anger reactions and those of others. It can also help us in considering the most appropriate response.

The five phases of the anger cycle include trigger, escalation, crisis, recovery, and depression.

1.  The Trigger Phase
The trigger phase happens when we perceive a threat or loss, and our body prepares to respond. In this phase, there is a subtle change from an individual’s normal/adaptive state into a stressed state. Anger triggers differ from person to perso, and can come from both the environment or from our thought processes.

2.  The Escalation Phase
In the escalation phase, there is the progressive appearance of the anger response. In this phase, our body prepares for a crisis after perceiving the trigger. This preparation is mostly physical and is manifested through symptoms like rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and raised blood pressure. Once the escalation phase is reached, there is less chance of calming down as this is the phase where the body prepares for "fight or flight" (to be discussed later).

3.  The Crisis Phase
As previously mentioned, the escalation phase is progressive, and it is in the crisis phase that the anger reaction reaches its peak. In the crisis phase, our body is on full alert, prepared to take action in response to the trigger. During this phase, logic and rationality may be limited if not impaired because the anger instinct takes over. In extreme cases, the crisis phase means that a person may be a serious danger to himself or to other people.

4.  The Recovery Phase
The recovery phase happens when the anger has been spent (or at least controlled), and there is now a steady return to a person’s normal/adaptive state. In this stage, reasoning and awareness of one’s self returns. If the right intervention is applied, the return to normalcy progresses smoothly. However, an inappropriate intervention can re-ignite the anger and serve as a new trigger.

5.  The Depression Phase
The depression phase marks a return to a person’s normal/adaptive ways. Physically, this stage marks below-normal vital signs such as heart rate so that the body can recover equilibrium. A person’s full use of his/her faculties return at this point, and the new awareness helps a person assess what just occurred. Consequently, this stage may be marked by embarrassment, guilt, regret, and/or depression.

After the depression phase is a return to a normal or adaptive phase. A new trigger, however, can start the entire cycle all over again. 

Until next time...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

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