When we think about social and civic movements throughout history, anger is at the root cause of action.
“One thing about what angry people do is they ruminate about what made them angry, which makes it worse and keeps anger and aggressive feelings alive.” — Dr. Brad Bushman, Ohio State University
“Anger motivates people to solve problems,” says Dr. Brad Bushman, professor of communication at Ohio State University with expertise in social psychology and aggression. “It’s not necessarily a bad emotion. Anger makes people feel strong and powerful and it can motivate them to stand up for the things that they believe are right.”
Listen: How to manage your anger and aggression during stressful times
During tense times, these emotions can reach a heightened state that ranges in intensity from “mild irritation to extreme rage.”
In response to feeling threatened – whether the threat is real or imagined – Bushman says that people often resort to displaced aggression when either the target that provoked them is not available or they fear retaliation from that target. But, unlike Sigmund Freud’s concept of venting as a positive tool that improves an individual’s psychological state, Bushman says that venting is actually one of the worse options to defuse the feeling of anger and aggression.
“One thing about what angry people do is they ruminate about what made them angry, which makes it worse and keeps anger and aggressive feelings alive,” he says. “There are other options that people have and that’s to turn down the heat. Reduce the arousal by taking deep breaths or listening to calming music. Arousal dissipates over time. [Mentally], you can distract yourself and turn to more pleasant topics and adopt a more distant detach perspective. And do something incompatible with anger and aggression.”