A study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience (2008) reported that irritability was a primary mood complaint for 70% of peri-menopausal women. It is well understood that hormonal changes can lead to mood swings and heighten our emotions in ways that can, at times, feel overwhelming or distressing. Decreases in serotonin, sometimes referred to as the feel-good hormone, can make it harder to regulate our feelings of anger.
Why is Anger difficult?
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion but often labelled as bad or negative. It becomes problematic when:
· We express anger in unhealthy ways (e.g. violence, humiliation, point scoring)
· We repress anger and it grows into resentment (e.g. passive aggression, hostility, getting angry at ‘safe’ targets like commuters or anonymous call handlers)
· We turn our unexpressed anger against ourselves (e.g. if we feel unable to challenge the real target of our anger we may instead beat ourselves up for being the problem)
· We lose control of our anger and say or do something we regret
Why do we struggle so much with anger?
It requires conscious effort to divorce anger from all the internal rules learned throughout our lives - from parents, school, partners, friends and the wider culture. Women in particular are often encouraged to be gentle and kind rather than fierce and angry. Expressing anger sometimes leads to conflict which many of us are resistant to. Anger is often associated with destruction or a loss of control but it doesn’t need to be that way.
Why we need Anger
Sue Parker-Hall is a psychotherapist who specialises in working with anger and writes:
‘anger is a pure emotion, a vital piece of intelligence about the immediate environment we are in, and it provides the energy and motivation for the sacred task of self-care.’
Anger is our inner radar telling us that we need to pay attention, something is wrong. It is a self-protective mechanism. We feel it when someone crosses our boundaries, when we have been hurt or overlooked. If we allow ourselves to be curious about our anger we can learn a lot.
Anger has a physical effect on the body – our heart rate speeds up, adrenaline is released and we tense our muscles. All of these effects call us to action.
How can we use Anger more effectively?
Next time you are angry take it seriously. Take a breath, pause and ask yourself:
· Do I feel hurt, unheard or undervalued?
· Have my boundaries have been crossed?
· If I could use magic what would I change right now?
· What can I change or ask for right now that will help?
Don’t worry too much about coming up with all the answers and solutions immediately, first understand what’s at stake, what you desire and then you can think more about how you choose to respond. Even if you decide to do nothing at all, there is value in recognising the issue and taking it seriously.
Dealing with strong feelings
If you are worried about controlling your anger you can use some simple strategies to give yourself time to calm down and think, these can help to prevent you from acting impulsively.
· Count to ten
· Slow your breathing down, breathe out for longer than you breathe in
· Leave the situation if you can, take a walk or do something different for a while
· Speak to a good friend or family member
· Write down what you are feeling, this often leads to more clarity
Menopause and Hormonal Anger
Writer and medical practitioner Dr Christianne Northrup suggests that peri and menopause often brings up unresolved emotional or physical baggage such as unhealthy relationships, or a lack of self care and describes hormonal events as a wake-up call, asking us to making positive changes in our lives.
It is tempting to dismiss our anger as ‘just my hormones’ but if we dismiss them too quickly we may miss important clues about what we need.
Using Anger for Good
We live in a time when female anger is finding greater expression. Without anger the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement would not have happened. It propelled women to say ‘enough is enough’ and call for much needed change. In the words of writer Maya Angelou (Iconoclasts 2006):
‘You should be angry…use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.’
A Word about Rage
Parker-Hall argues that rage is different to anger. It is an intense feeling that occurs when we feel overwhelmed, helpless or powerless. For instance, talking to someone who refuses to listen or consistently tells you that you are wrong and you can’t make yourself heard.
Rage can be frightening, and if you are struggling with it try to access some help. Talk to a trusted friend or seek out professional support.
Looking after ourselves can ease some of the ups and downs of hormonal changes. Remember to be kind and compassionate towards yourself, learn from mistakes, and try to practice good self-care.
eat a nutritious diet
take regular exercise
rest when you need to
use your support network
appreciate the good things in your life
make time for things that bring you joy