Anger

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Military life can entail both acute and chronic stressors. High levels of stress can make a person prone to feeling irritable, frustrated, and annoyed by certain situations, which may impact their interactions with other people. Service members may also experience anger in connection with stressful events or changes.

The nature of a stressor, as well as an individual's personality and cognitive style, can also influence how likely the person is to experience anger. In individuals who are already prone to anger, stress can increase the intensity, frequency, and duration of angry feelings.

Like stress, everyone experiences anger from time to time, but extreme or uncontrolled anger can result in strained relationships and unsafe behaviors. This is an important issue in military mental health, as more than 50 percent of service members report that they experience anger that is sometimes difficult for them to control. In service members, anger is associated with relationship problems, inappropriate workplace behavior, heart disease, vulnerability to illness, and problematic alcohol use.[ Reference 1 ] Further, there is evidence that levels of pre-deployment anger are associated with higher risk for posttraumatic stress disorder after a deployment.[ Reference 2 ]

Service members who are prone to anger can learn to manage this using behavioral and cognitive strategies. Prevention and early intervention can help to empower service members and mitigate negative physical and interpersonal effects of anger.

Anger Management Strategies

Service members can practice and implement these strategies to help manage feelings of anger.

  • Relaxation techniques:

    • Practice deep breathing

    • Relax tense muscles

    • Visualize a relaxing moment

  • Cognitive strategies:

    • Identify possible solutions to the issue

    • Pause to collect thoughts and reflect on the situation

  • Behavioral strategies:

    • Express frustration assertively and constructively, without causing harm to others

    • Take a timeout if needed

    • Avoid situations that spark anger

Resources

The following resources can support service members, leaders, and providers in addressing anger.

  • How to Recognize and Deal with Anger This web page from the American Psychological Association covers different aspects of anger, advice for managing anger, information about when to seek professional help, and details about effective treatments.
  • Anger Management for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Clients: Participant Workbook This workbook from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is designed for people living with a mental illness and substance use disorder and participating in a 12-week anger management group treatment program. The approximately 50-page workbook summarizes core concepts for each session and includes lessons and exercises for understanding and managing anger.
  • Anger and Irritability Management Skills (AIMS) Online Training This 8-module online training course from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses videos, games, and interactive exercises to educate veterans and service members about what causes anger and aggression and offers practical skills and training in behavioral, cognitive, and communication strategies to manage anger and develop self-control.
  • Anger and Irritability Management Skills (AIMS) Mobile App  This mobile app is based on the AIMS online course. It provides users with education about anger, opportunities for finding support, the ability to create an anger management plan, and tools to help manage angry reactions. It also includes an anger-tracking function. Users can also create custom tools based on their preferences, and can integrate contacts, photos, and music.
  • Counseling Options for Service Members and Their Families This web page from Military OneSource provides a list of options for in-person, web-based, and phone counseling for service members and their families.

References

  1. Jakupcak, M., Conybeare, D., Phelps, L., Hunt, S., Holmes, H. A., Felker, B., ... & McFall, M. E. (2007). Anger, hostility, and aggression among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans reporting PTSD and subthreshold PTSD. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20(6), 945-954. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.20258

     

  2. Lommen, M. J., Engelhard, I. M., Schoot, R., & Hout, M. A. (2014). Anger: Cause or consequence of posttraumatic stress? A prospective study of Dutch soldiers. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 27(2), 200-207. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.21904