24/01/2013 12:14 GMT | Updated 26/03/2013 05:12 GMT

Why Are We All So Angry These Days?

Road rage, car rage, plane rage... there seems to be a rage for everything these days! Rarely a week goes by without some report in the media about someone who has 'lost it' as the red mist descended. There are angry people in supermarkets (trolley rage), on buses, in cinemas, at restaurants... Is nowhere safe anymore from our anger? How and why did we become such an Angry Nation?

I have studied anger for many years and penned two books on the topic; the latest, Managing Anger (Hodder and Stoughton) out this month. I believe that we are getting angrier as a nation - that we are more likely than ever before to both feel angry and to express our anger. This is despite the increasing 'zero tolerance' exhibited in many workplaces and organisations that remind us that 'abuse towards staff will not be tolerated.' So, what's going on?

The reasons for our increasing rage are, in my view, twofold; on the one hand our expectations have risen steadily and on the other hand, so have our stress levels. Our raised expectations mean that we, as a society, have much higher expectations of our world; we believe we have the right to expect things to go well, indeed, to be perfect. Part of this raised expectation is fed by the 'customer charter' culture which has mushroomed over the past decade; this is a charter for our 'rights' and leads us to have high expectations that we receive superlative service in all aspects of our life. When, as is inevitable, reality falls short of these expectations, we feel that we have the right to get angry about it. Steak not cooked to perfection? Someone eating popcorn noisily in the cinema? We have the right to get annoyed and demand redress - immediately!

At the same time that we have become more demanding as a nation, we are also living a more frenetic and frantic pace of life, which means our stress levels are raised. This raised stress means that our tolerance for things going wrong is dramatically reduced. Things that go wrong often appear to conspire to stop us achieving some objective whether that be work or pleasure-based. The customer taking too long in front of us is stopping us do our shopping quickly, the staff member who won't give us a refund is stopping us getting access to the justice we think we deserve, and the colleague who is interrupting us with minor queries is stopping us get our work done. Because of our stress levels, our tolerance for such obstacles is low....and we get angry. This combination of raised expectations and stress levels gives rise to the 'angry personality'; and there seem to be more Mr and Ms Angrys about these days.

The things that make us angry tend to fall into a small range of categories; things that frustrate us and stop us reaching our goals, unmet expectations, perceived injustice or abuse. Our tolerance for all of these is likely to be low when are stress levels are high, and we feel entitled not only to feel angry, but to express that anger when we feel that these rights have been violated.

What, then, can we do to become calmer and to take life's frustrations more easily in our stride? Clearly, we need to lower our expectations and not only accept, but expect that not everything will go as it 'should'. This doesn't mean we have to put up with shoddy service, but that we can be able to deal more calmly with things when they go wrong. Lowering our general stress levels will also mean that we can tolerate everyday disappointments better and not fly off the handle at relatively minor frustrations.

So, don't get mad, get even (tempered)! Your health (and people around you) will thank you for it!

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