By Gregg Snook, M.A. NCC
Good morning all!
Recently I was listening to NPR and they did a small segment on anger and its relation to depression. You can listen to it here. It is an interesting look at depression being more than what we typically think; Sad.
The idea of depression can be recalled through figures like Eeyore, from Winnie the Pooh, or the little comma from the Zoloft commercials in the 90s. Rarely would we think of Frank Costanza as a depressed person when he is celebrating Festivus, or a stand-up routine by Lewis Black.
I first bring up Eeyore because, I find, the typical description of those whom may be addressing symptoms or Major Depressive Disorder expressing feeling low, sad, or unmotivated. Some people may even recognize at some point in their life hearing or saying “I feel depressed”. This is not to say all depressed people are angry but instead considering typical examples we see in entertainment or literature.
The Zoloft commercial from the 90s was, in my opinion, America’s first lesson on Neuroscience. That sad little comma hopped across the board with a solemn look on it’s face while the narrator described the feelings of depression. We later see how chemicals are exchanged in the brain through synapses to explain how the medication worked.
This article is more focused on what could be going on in Frank’s mind. Frank Costanza, another character George’s father on Seinfeld, is best known to me in the Festivus episode. Frank was often seen as “giving people the business” and could be described as a pragmatic grump. In the Festivus episode Frank famously said “I got a lot of problems with you people and you are going to hear about it”. I am not making attempts to diagnose a fictional character but instead chose him in order to show how some depressed individuals may manifest with anger.
I am sure some, if not all of us, have dealt with someone that is loveable at times but often critical, easily angered, or just grumpy. That ‘grumpy’ may be a byproduct of someone experiencing, and maybe being frustrated with, Major Depressive Disorder. That person whom could just want so badly for things to go their way. Or maybe who had “a lot of problems with you people…”.
The typical symptoms listed in the DSM-V for Major Depressive Disorder, or clinical depression, are: depressed mood, diminished interest in things or activities, weight loss or gain, sleeping too much or not enough, psychomotor agitation or retardation (fidgeting or sluggishness), fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death. For the sake of this piece, it is important to note that anger is not present among these symptoms.
So what do I do, Gregg? Do I go to my doctor and yell at them and tell them how angry I am? I wouldn’t advise it…depending on their reaction it may not end how you hoped, which is part of why I am writing this piece. How easy is it for all of us, including professionals, to overlook anger as a part of being depressed? Very difficult! So, when our friends, family, co-workers, paramours, or children are angry with us, it is very easy to become defensive, blaming, or dismissive when they may need us to be understanding. It is much more difficult to be curious and understanding in these times when others are angry.
Gregg, what can I do if I am angry and this is related to my Mood Disorder? Well, as always, be kind to yourself in these times. It can be really difficult to go through a cycle of emotions, which lead to anger, impulsive actions or miscommunications, and then regret and shame. Doing your best to communicate what you are feeling to those who can be patient and supportive may help. The old recovery adage of “mix it with air” has been around because, well, it seems to work. You don’t hear people saying “open those canned beans with a stapler,” because it does not work.
Gregg, that’s how others can treat me! What can I do for myself? Well, Anger Management techniques seem to focus on learning how to relax, and CBT techniques show us how to develop and use other Anger Management skills. You can learn more and find resources about Anger Management here.
There are a number of other things, all of which could be new experiences, that you can try in order to address your anger. I am writing another article in addressing mood disorders or feelings of malaise by walking in nature. There are also a number of meditation apps and videos on YouTube to address calming the self and releasing stress. This is also the part where I say to try to examine your diet, spend time with people that care about you, pet a doggo (preferably a puppy), or something else that may help you relax and take a step back from the feeling of being overwhelmed that anger can sometimes cause.
Remember, regardless of being in early recovery, or struggling another way, you are allowed to have emotions. You are also responsible for what you do with them. I always encourage others to seek support when they struggle in order to not be alone and have more heads, hands, and hearts on the project. When you feel angry thoughts or feelings, look around because anger is often traveling in tow of sad. People say anger is sad’s bodyguard.
Thank you for reading.