Perception Affects Anger and StressCertain events often trigger anger or stress in many people, but the degree of anger or stress that is experienced has to do with how a person perceives and interprets what is happening to them. For example, two people can be cut off in traffic. One person might interpret the gesture as a lack of respect, a threat to physical safety or a hostile gesture, and get angry. Another person may figure that the offending driver may not have seen them, or might be wrapped up in their own thoughts, and let the event roll off their back. In both cases, there was a stimulus, a belief, and a response; the belief, or interpretation, of the stimulus is what led to the different responses.
(If this sounds familiar, cognitive restructuring may be helpful for you.)
Some People Are More Prone To Anger And StressSome people have inborn personality traits that make them more susceptible to anger and stress. For example, some people are naturally more observant than others; this can make them more likely to notice things that might make them angry—things that may go unnoticed by someone else. Some people are naturally less comfortable with change, which can also cause stress and anger in certain situations. Other people have a low tolerance for frustration, and get more angry more easily than others. Some of these tendencies can be seen early in life, but these tendencies can be softened.
(Read more about personality traits that are more prone to stress.)
Attitudes Cause Anger and StressOur habitual thought patterns, which can be somewhat altered with practice, contribute to our experience of anger or stress. Some people tend to interpret things negatively as a matter of habit. They may attribute someone else’s error to malicious or unkind motives, for example. They may take one negative event as a sign that more negative events are to come, which can contribute to anger and stress.
(Learn more about attributional style and optimism vs. pessimism.)
It’s How You Handle Anger and Stress That MattersAnger and stress are natural experiences. The way we deal with anger and stress can make the difference between healthy and unhealthy levels. With stress, for example, we can’t always prevent stressful events from occurring; however, managing stress through breathing exercises, journaling or other stress management techniques can neutralize the effects of stress. Likewise, we can’t always prevent anger from occurring, but we can work through our anger in healthy ways, and it’s not a problem--or we can try to “stuff” anger or express it in negative and unhealthy ways, and it becomes a problem.
(See this article on anger management for healthy ways to handle anger.)
Miers AC, Rieffe C, Meerum Terwogt M, Cowan R, Linden W. The Relation Between Anger Coping Strategies, Anger Mood and Somatic Complaints in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, August, 2007.