Anger Management 101: Anger is a powerful and naturally occurring emotion. We can get caught in an ugly web if we don’t learn how to express it in a healthy way. It can be overwhelming if not dealt with correctly.
Sometimes, it’s a person who offended you. Other times, it may be a feeling that your life isn’t going according to plan, or you got a flat tire on your way to your kid’s piano recital. These are just some of the endless situations that can induce angry outbursts.
I’ve had days where I looked like Godzilla taking out downtown Tokyo. Sometimes, I would resort to “anger eating” – stuffing my face as a way to “get back” at the universe for making me angry. The joke was on me when I weighed myself later in the week – then I got angry!!
I used to punch the walls until I got tired of having to patch the holes.
One can be genetically predisposed to angry outbursts. It can also be a behavior we learn from others. Let’s be real here, how many of us were taught to take a time out and breathe? I’m not knocking my parents, but it just wasn’t something that was considered.
One of my friends recounted a story about the time he and his family were at the dinner table. He and his sister were talking too much and their father repeatedly asked them to be quiet. It got to the point where he screamed at them – fettucine sprayed from his mouth and Italian bread broke the speed of sound … and a light fixture. In hindsight, it’s a funny story, but it must have been terrifying to witness as a child.
When you allow your anger to take over, it begins to negatively impact your life and the lives of those around you. The time has come to make important changes to how you handle your emotions. The following steps can be taken to cope with your anger in a healthy and productive way.
Remember, if you have an open mind and commit yourself to practice (as opposed to a psych ward), you can get better at controlling your anger.
Think calming thoughts, and let’s get started.
1. Breathe Deeply
I know, the damn “B” word. You’re probably sick of it, but it wouldn’t be mentioned so much if it didn’t work. Breathing deeply puts space between you and the situation. It can give you just the right amount of time to calm down instead of lashing out immediately – it disarms the situation. Taking a few deep breaths also boosts blood flow to your brain. The more oxygen going to your brain, the more rational your thoughts and behavior will be.
If you’d like to supercharge the breathing, count slowly at the same time.
You can count up to 10 as you breathe in and out. Or you can count backwards. Take the time to think about what number comes next. This effort will shift your focus and distract you from what’s making you angry. When you disconnect yourself from the event that’s making you flustered, you’re less likely to act out. Use this delay to moderate your anger – become the voice of reason.
2. Acknowledge Your Emotions
Start by accepting your anger. It’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to let it out on others in a destructive way. Be true to yourself. If you feel there are any negative issues from your past holding you back, find a way to deal with them. There are several things you can do to move past painful memories, like
3. Look Inward
Reflecting inward can help you see things from a different vantage point. Seeing things from a different viewpoint provides you with clarity. In addition, take a moment to ask yourself if the person who angered you actually meant to harm you. It may have been unintentional. Looking at the situation from a 3rd person viewpoint is a terrific coping mechanism. You’ll be able to reach an amicable understanding while being respectful of yourself and others.
4. Learn Your Triggers We all have certain people or places that make us angry. Just thinking about them can launch a rocket into space. Once you’ve identified your triggers, you’ll be better equipped at handling them. For example, let’s say you always take a certain route to work, but it’s always congested and that makes you angry. Why not consider a different route and spare yourself the aggravation of wasting time in traffic? If it’s an individual feeding your anger, either express yourself (calmly) or choose to avoid them completely. Yes, there IS a time for avoidance.
5. Do Something You Love Anger is a very intense emotion. To balance it out, you need to take up a hobby or activity you enjoy. Channel the negative energy into something productive. Creative activities like drawing, painting, or playing a musical instrument benefit your mental health. In fact, the more time you spend on creative pastimes, the less angry and stressed you’ll feel. It’s like a vacation for your mind.
You can also burn off that angry energy through physical activity like hiking, kickboxing, cycling, and chopping wood. Just make sure the head of the person you hate isn’t between the axe and the wood. Even sitting for 15 minutes surrounded by nature can uplift your mental wellbeing.
These activities can help release pent-up negative energy in a healthy and safe way. Not only that, but exercise stimulates your brain to release more feel-good hormones. Remember that mind-body connection!
Based on personal experience, it is well worth the investment of time and effort to put these suggestions into practice. You will thank yourself for feeling calmer and more in control. You will experience the peace of mind (and body) you so richly deserve. ~Ted
Tip 1: Explore what’s really behind your anger
Have you ever gotten into an argument over something silly? Big fights often happen over something small, like a dish left out or being ten minutes late. But there’s usually a bigger issue behind it. If you find your irritation and anger rapidly rising, ask yourself, “What am I really angry about?” Identifying the real source of frustration will help you communicate your anger better, take constructive action, and work towards a resolution.
Is your anger masking other feelings such as embarrassment, insecurity, hurt, shame, or vulnerability? If your knee-jerk response in many situations is anger, it’s likely that your temper is covering up your true feelings. This is especially likely if you grew up in a family where expressing feelings was strongly discouraged. As an adult, you may have a hard time acknowledging feelings other than anger.
Anger can also mask anxiety. When you perceive a threat, either real or imagined, your body activates the “fight or flight” response. In the case of the “fight” response, it can often manifest itself as anger or aggression. To change your response, you need to find out what’s causing you to feel anxious or scared.
Anger problems can stem from what you learned as a child. If you watched others in your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, you might think this is how anger is supposed to be expressed.
Anger can be a symptom of another underlying health problem, such as depression (especially in men), trauma, or chronic stress.
Clues that there’s more to your anger than meets the eye
You have a hard time compromising. Is it hard for you to understand other people’s points of view, and even harder to concede a point? If you grew up in a family where anger was out of control, you may remember how the angry person got their way by being the loudest and most demanding. Compromising might bring up scary feelings of failure and vulnerability.
You view different opinions as a personal challenge. Do you believe that your way is always right and get angry when others disagree? If you have a strong need to be in control or a fragile ego, you may interpret other perspectives as a challenge to your authority, rather than simply a different way of looking at things.
You have trouble expressing emotions other than anger. Do you pride yourself on being tough and in control? Do you feel that emotions like fear, guilt, or shame don’t apply to you? Everyone has those emotions so you may be using anger as a cover for them. If you are uncomfortable with different emotions, disconnected, or stuck on an angry one-note response to situations, it’s important to get back in touch with your feelings.
Tip 2: Be aware of your anger warning signs
While you might feel that you just explode into anger without warning, there are in fact physical warning signs in your body. Becoming aware of your own personal signs that your temper is starting to boil allows you to take steps to manage your anger before it gets out of control.
Tip 3: Identify your triggers
Stressful events don’t excuse anger, but understanding how these events affect you can help you take control of your environment and avoid unnecessary aggravation. Look at your regular routine and try to identify activities, times of day, people, places, or situations that trigger irritable or angry feelings.
Maybe you get into a fight every time you go out for drinks with a certain group of friends. Or maybe the traffic on your daily commute drives you crazy. When you identify your triggers, think about ways to either avoid them or view the situations differently so they don’t make your blood boil.
You may think that external factors—the insensitive actions of other people, for example, or frustrating situations—are causing your anger. But anger problems have less to do with what happens to you than how you interpret and think about what happened.
Common negative thinking patterns that trigger and fuel anger include:
When you identify the thought patterns that fuel your anger, you can learn to reframe how you think about things.
Ask yourself: What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true? Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at a situation? What would I say to a friend who was thinking these things?
Tip 4: Learn ways to cool down quickly
Once you know how to recognize the warning signs that your temper is rising and anticipate your triggers, you can act quickly to deal with your anger before it spins out of control. There are many techniques that can help you cool down and keep your anger in check.
Focus on the physical sensations of anger. While it may seem counterintuitive, tuning into the way your body feels when you’re angry often lessens the emotional intensity of your anger.
Take some deep breaths. Deep, slow breathing helps counteract rising tension. The key is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible into your lungs.
Get moving. A brisk walk around the block is a great idea. Physical activity releases pent-up energy so you can approach the situation with a cooler head.
Use your senses. You can use sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste to quickly relieve stress and cool down. You might try listening to a favorite piece of music, looking at a treasured photo, savoring a cup of tea, or stroking a pet.
Stretch or massage areas of tension. Roll your shoulders if you are tensing them, for example, or gently massage your neck and scalp.
Slowly count to ten. Focus on the counting to let your rational mind catch up with your feelings. If you still feel out of control by the time you reach ten, start counting again.
Give yourself a reality check
When you start getting upset about something, take a moment to think about the situation.
Ask yourself: How important is it in the grand scheme of things? Is it really worth getting angry about it? Is it worth ruining the rest of my day? Is my response appropriate to the situation? Is there anything I can do about it? Is taking action worth my time?
If you’ve decided that the situation is worth getting angry about and there’s something you can do to make it better, the key is to express your feelings in a healthy way. Learning how to resolve conflict in a positive way will help you strengthen your relationships rather than damaging them.
Always fight fair. It’s okay to be upset at someone, but if you don’t fight fair, the relationship will quickly break down. Fighting fair allows you to express your own needs while still respecting others.
Make the relationship your priority. Maintaining and strengthening the relationship, rather than “winning” the argument, should always be your first priority. Respect the other person and their viewpoint.
Focus on the present. Once you are in the heat of arguing, it’s easy to start throwing past grievances into the mix. Rather than looking to the past and assigning blame, focus on what you can do in the present to solve the problem.
Be willing to forgive. Resolving conflict is impossible if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive. Resolution lies in releasing the urge to punish, which can never compensate for our losses and only adds to our injury by further depleting and draining our lives.
Take five if things get too heated. If your anger starts to spiral out of control, remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes or for as long as it takes you to cool down.
Know when to let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on.
Taking care of your overall mental and physical well-being can help ease tension and diffuse anger problems.
Manage stress. If your stress levels are through the roof, you’re more likely to struggle controlling your temper. Try practicing relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or deep breathing. You’ll feel calmer and more in control of your emotions.
Talk to someone you trust. Nothing eases stress more effectively than chatting face-to-face with a friend or loved one. The person doesn’t have to provide answers, they just need to be a good listener. But talking about your feelings and seeking a different perspective on a situation is not the same as venting. Simply venting your anger at someone will only fuel your temper and reinforce your anger problem.
Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can exacerbate negative thoughts and leave you feeling agitated and short-tempered. Try to get seven to nine hours of good quality sleep.
Exercise regularly. It’s an effective way to burn-off tension and ease stress, and it can leave you feeling more relaxed and positive throughout the day. Aim for at least 30 minutes on most days, broken up into shorter periods if that’s easier.
Be smart about alcohol and drugs. They lower your inhibitions and can make it even harder to control your anger. Even consuming too much caffeine can make you more irritable and prone to anger.
When things get tense, humor and playfulness can help you lighten the mood, smooth over differences, reframe problems, and keep things in perspective. When you feel yourself getting angry in a situation, try using a little lighthearted humor. It can allow you to get your point across without getting the other person’s defenses up or hurting their feelings.
However, it’s important that you laugh with the other person, not at them. Avoid sarcasm, mean-spirited humor. If in doubt, start by using self-deprecating humor. We all love people who are able to gently poke fun at their own failings. After all, we’re all flawed and we all make mistakes.
So, if you’ve made a mistake at work or you’ve just spilled coffee over yourself, instead of getting angry or picking a fight, try making a joke about it. Even if the joke falls flat or comes out wrong, the only person you risk offending is yourself.
When humor and play are used to reduce tension and anger, a potential conflict can even become an opportunity for greater connection and intimacy.
If, despite putting these previous anger management techniques into practice, your anger is still spiraling out of control, or if you’re getting into trouble with the law or hurting others, you need more help.
Anger management classes allow you to meet others coping with the same struggles and learn tips and techniques for managing your anger.
Therapy, either group or individual, can be a great way to explore the reasons behind your anger and identify triggers. Therapy can also provide a safe place to practice new skills for expressing anger.
Anger isn’t the real problem in an abusive relationship. Despite what many believe, domestic violence and abuse does not happen due to the abuser’s loss of control over their temper. Rather, it’s a deliberate choice to control another person. If you are abusive towards your spouse or partner, know that you need specialized treatment, not regular anger management classes.
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