Anger is a natural feeling. People have varying degrees of temperament, but everyone feels some sort of anger from mildly annoyed to enraged. However, there comes a point where frequent anger becomes a problem. Anger often leads to ruminating about perceived wrongs, which may only increase the level of anger felt. People with bipolar disorder may experience anger more than the general population. A new study shows that there may be a positive aspect of anger in bipolar disorder in that it may predict more time before the next depressive episode.

Anger in bipolar disorder can be felt both in depression and in episodes with mixed features. Mania or hypomania with mixed features can come with high degrees of irritability, which increases levels of anger, hostility and aggression. In depressive episodes, people with bipolar disorder experience anger attacks at more than twice the rate as people with unipolar depression.

A new study, led by Tommy H. Ng of Temple University and published in Behavior Therapy, looked at anger in people with bipolar spectrum disorders to see if anger levels could predict oncoming episodes. They looked at data from 120 young adults from the Longitudinal Investigation of Bipolar Spectrum Disorders which covered data from individuals over 3.5 years. The participants were surveyed on multiple occasions for levels of aggression, impulsivity, depression and mania.

The researchers found that high levels of anger and aggression did not predict episodes of mania or hypomania, but did find that people who were experiencing high levels of aggression and anger had more days before their next episode of depression than those without high levels of anger and aggression.

This may seem counter-intuitive. After all, irritability is a symptom of mania with mixed features, so it stands to reason that having this symptom could predict an oncoming episode. That is not what the researchers found. Instead, they found that symptoms of anger and aggression may protect against episodes of depression. The thought behind this finding is that anger and aggression prohibit behaviors like isolation, low energy and low motivation- all symptoms of bipolar depression.

Protection against depressive episodes is not the only benefit of anger. In the short term, feeling anger has several benefits:

  • Righteous anger promotes social engagement like fighting for equality.
  • Anger can motivate people into action against long-term perceived wrongs.
  • Expressing anger (without aggression) can promote communication in relationships.
  • Levels of assertiveness increase with anger, which can promote action when a person would otherwise be too passive or shy.
  • When anger is replaced by satisfaction, it can promote positive feelings, which can protect against depression.

This is not to say that being angry all the time is positive. Frequent or prolonged anger does have long-term effects like increased anxiety, high blood pressure and headaches.

 

 

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