What is Anger?
Anger is an emotion everyone experiences and everyone expresses. When managed effectively, anger is a natural and healthy human emotion. However, when not managed effectively can be a source of physical, mental, emotional and/or social consequences.
Anger is also a protective mechanism resulting from stress. Anger is a secondary emotion that commonly masks other feelings such as a loss of self-esteem, embarrassment, or fear. People are likely to act on how they feel before acting on what they know. Anger causes blood to flow away from the brain and irrational thinking commonly occurs when a person is angry. Calming down and timing out allows a person?s blood flow to return to the brain. Hostility and aggression are not the same thing as anger, therefore it is important to effectively learn how to address anger.
Anger is a customary patient experience due to the circumstances of their healthcare involvement. Due to illness and/or other major difficulties, patients are functioning at a less than routine manner. In addition, their caregivers and/or family members and friends are also are not functioning at their best. As the circumstances they are experiencing become more difficult, their anger and hostility frequently increases. The expressed difficulties by patient and support system can interfere with the process at hand. As anger and hostility increase, more time and attention are necessary to defuse, therefore, less time is spent providing help and care.
Dealing with an angry patient can pose one of the greatest challenges for the healthcare professional since the common human fight or flight instinct is triggered when a professional encounters an angry patient and/or caregiver. Learning how to maintain a calm, empathetic response is a learned skill since it is not a common experience. Learning communication skills to defuse and develop a cooperative dialogue is necessary. Unlike other customer service professions, patient care is unique since anger is often directed at a person and/or situation not related to the healthcare professional. Reducing power struggles is necessary to work together to reduce and defuse anger in order to develop the cooperative relationship.
The Process of Anger
Experiencing anger occurs through a process, although many variables exist for the onset of anger, a (3) step process exists for angry situations. The combination of these (3) steps results in the patient experiencing anger.
- First, the patient experiences or encounters an anger-eliciting stimulus, usually an easily identifiable external source. The person/patient blames the external situation for the cause of their anger. Examples presented by patients may include: the hospital admission resulting from a trauma caused through another person or outside of their own fault such as a car accident; a person who has been the victim of a violent crime; rape, mugging, etc. The stimulus may also stem from an internal emotional source such as a poorly prognosticated illness not caused by lifestyle; lung cancer in a non-smoker or mental health issues stemming from childhood trauma such as child abuse, etc.