The modern world, as I'm sure you've noticed, presents us with plenty of incompetence and nastiness, so it's natural enough to suspect that, if you're frequently angry these days, it's because you have to deal with so many jerks.
But beware, a handful of psychiatrists warn in a fascinating recent NPR article, constant anger often says more about your state of mind than it does about the state of the world around you. And the message your irritability it trying to send you is not good.
The stealthiest sign of depression?
Picture a person with serious depression. Did you imagine someone with low mood and lower energy struggling to get out of bed? That's the popular image of people battling depression, but according to the experts writer Nell Greenfieldboyce speaks to, that's only one way depression can manifest. It might also look like you constantly getting ticked off at your friends, family, or co-workers.
Out-of-control anger is recognized as a sign of depression in children, Maurizio Fava, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School, points out to Greenfieldboyce. But it's not understood as often as a symptom of the same condition in adults. That's a mistake, in his opinion.
"Why would someone who happens to be irritable and angry when depressed as an adolescent suddenly stop being angry at age 18?" he asks.
"Irritability is not that much less frequent than sadness and anxiety in patients who are presenting for psychiatric treatment," agrees Brown University psychiatrist Dr. Mark Zuckerman.
This confusion about symptoms results not just in misdiagnoses by less informed clinicians. It also stops some people who could benefit from treatment for depression from getting help as they don't recognize their flairs of anger are rooted in their psychological issues. This is particularly important to note for entrepreneurs who, as Inc.com has reported previously, are particularly at risk for depression and may have the sort of go-getter personality that can mask traditional symptoms.
Greenfieldboyce's article is packed with more details on relevant research, as well as personal stories from patients. If this is an issue touching your life, it's well worth a read in full. But the bottom line is this: if you have recently developed a hair trigger temper, think carefully about whether what has changed is your situation or your own state of mind. If you suspect your anger might be more about your feelings than the world around you, don't be shy about seeking help.
Anger isn't always out there. Often it's in here.
There's a larger point to be noted here too though. Most of us understand anger as situational, something we do in response to something annoying or disrespectful out there. But emotional outbursts, including being quicker to anger than usual, can also be a sign of chronic sleep deprivation or impending catastrophic burnout.
Constant anger, in other words, is frequently (though certainly not always - plenty of things are genuinely infuriating) about what's going on inside your head and than what's going on in the world around you. Before you settle too comfortably into your grumpiness and dislike of others, spend time soul searching to be sure the issue isn't your psychology, rather than their bad behavior.