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As with all of the emotions, anger causes biological changes within the body and as with most emotions, can cause irreversible damage to both our bodies, and sometimes our relationships with others and ourselves.

The biological changes which coincide with anger are: an elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, release of adrenaline and the release of a stress hormone called Cortisol. The damage, which follows anger – particularly sustained anger can be life threatening as it has been shown that tiny nicks and tears are actually visible in the arteries, which lead to the heart. These cannot be repaired and over time, a person may literally have an explosive bout of rage that triggers a severe heart attack.

Additionally, aroused emotions such as fear and anger will trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body – unresolved leads to a continued state of arousal, which is detrimental to health and well being. It will also leave an individual feeling anxious, reducing concentration, attention, restlessness, and depression. Increased pain levels and fatigue are also common.

It takes a whole lot of energy not only to arouse strong emotions, but it also takes far more energy to maintain them! Energy, which is in precious supply to one afflicted with a chronic and disabling illness.

Misdirection of Anger

Most of us – whether male or female, are trained from birth not to allow anger to be expressed fully. It is not socially acceptable behavior to go on a rampage, or rant and rave, or it is detrimental to employment or relationships. Unfortunately within that training, we are not taught how to deal with, release, or recover from anger – we are mostly taught how to repress it!

Therefore, people of all ages, occupations, nationalities, and genders, are prone to the damage of stress and to misdirection of anger. The calm and placid employee may go home and beat the living daylights out of a dog, or become irrational over small events/frustrations in the home. This sort of misdirected anger is very common in people who live with progressive MS. Unfortunately, for our carers, they are often left feeling like nothing they do is right or good enough, when in fact it is not them, but what the disease has done to us that we are angry with. The same is true in reverse. Often we feel like our carers are angry with us, with the changes our disabilities have caused in family routine. But so very often it is the MS, the damage it has caused which our carers are often angry at – not us personally.

Misidentification of Anger

Often people may even misidentify the cause of anger. For example, if my beloved husband leaves his sneakers in the way where I have to try to navigate my chair, I can become quite boiling hot over it. To a tiny degree, I am angry with him, but for the most part? I am really, very angry at my limitations of mobility – in short – it is the MS I am angry with in general – not him.

Depression by many mental health professionals has been long viewed as ‘anger turned in’. When a person is angry, particularly if the source or reason for the anger is over something, which cannot be changed then depression may result – to varying degrees. Alternatively, if there is an inability to express the anger, for example it is not physically safe to do so, or the consequences of expressed anger are detrimental to employment or a relationship, anger may also be repressed or turned inward.

Because anger may cause physiological changes, a person may identify their emotional status as "stressed or anxious" because they are restless, aroused, feeling fatigued and not ‘quite themselves’.

Coping with Anger

The first step in any coping strategy is "acknowledgment". To acknowledge something is in no means the same as "accept" – which is often translated as ‘defeat’.

Rather acknowledgment is to simply state "I have Progressive MS and it is not going to go away". The second component of acknowledgment is the willingness to do something about it!

Acknowledgment of Anger:

Firstly, it is necessary to sort through the myriad of emotions, reactions and bodily reactions to discover whether anger is actually at the root of the stress or distress.

Then, it follows to try to establish or identify the causal factor or triggers of anger – For example are you really angry at your spouse or are you really angry at your disability? Or both to a varying degree?

Secondly – willingness to do something about it! There are many coping strategies available to the release of anger apart from going off the deep end at the first hapless individual in sight. They are very similar to coping with deep grief, or loss or bereavement.


Writing a letter, keeping a journal, venting in the bah humbug forum, calling a friend and venting. If you choose to vent in person? It might be advantageous to let the individual know that you are angry, but not at them, so that they are not emotionally harmed or become a part of your anger fest J .

Banging pots and pans together, putting your face in a pillow and screaming your lungs out also helps as does having a good cry.

Forgiveness is often not immediately thought of when dealing with anger, but it is one of the most purifying or all activities.

Learning to forgive yourself is perhaps the hardest thing to do, but it is often one of the main core issues involved with anger caused by chronic illness. We often may harbor hidden feelings of resentment or guilt which can cause anger, because we feel less than we wish we were.

We may feel that we have "disappointed" family, friends, ourselves because we are not gainfully employed, fully mobile capable human beings.

It is not our fault that we have MS, and yet so often we place unneccessary guilt, shame, frustration and anger on ourselves, because we are not able bodied.

Forgiving others, can also be difficult. Sometimes just accepting the reality that not everyone is nice, and you do not have to like or have other people in your life can be a huge step.

How many people suffer from a relationship with someone that you could cheerfully choke the person rather than cutting all ties – particularly if the person in question is a family member?

Sometimes forgiving others begins with the realization that the other person is doing the best he/she can with what he/she has to work with.

Once the anger has been identified, the source revealed, strategies enacted to deal with it, calming down becomes paramount.

Do whatever it is that gives you most pleasure – listen to music, play with your dog/cat, chat with a friend read whatever gives you maximum pleasure.

It may be necessary also to sit down with your partner or friend and explain what is happening and why you were angry. Statements which begin with "I" are far better than "you" if you are dealing with relationship problems. You may need ‘time out" from a person to get under control before approaching the topic. Alternatively you may decide to sever ties, or drop the issue altogether.

Coping in Future

Picking your battles, is one step toward retaining energies, while there are many issues which can make the "blood boil" how relevent is the battle – what difference will it make anyway? Are questions which can guide us to selecting which battles are worth fighting for.

Coping with anger begins by identifying the physiological response to anger either before it starts, or as it starts rather than let it become ‘full blown’.

Additionally, knowing what our ‘trigger points’ are goes a long way to avoiding anger before it even starts – if a behavior or conversation is a trigger point – intervene early – change the subject, tell the person you will not discuss this or that.

If it is a personality conflict with someone, then you can decide whether this person warrants your time and energy. However, if it is someone you just cannot avoid or cut from your circle, it is possible to minimize contact or to try to look for redeeming factors, or for explanations of why this person rubs you the wrong way.

Sometimes controlling anger is to realize that you cannot change a situation but you can change your attitude to it.

It is perfectly ok to get angry at your disability, it is not ok to hate yourself or blame yourself for it. If you cannot complete a task because of disability, try to work out other ways to accomplish the same task or satisfy the desire.

Getting continuously angry about MS or disability will not give us our legs back, or more energy, but using a mobility device will get us from point A to point B with more energy intact.

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