Everyone has felt anger. Even the most peaceful people have been flooded with extreme anger at some point in their lives. Anger is one of the most powerful and overwhelming emotions a person can feel. So it’s no surprise that many people struggle to keep anger under control.
Because anger can be so powerful and difficult to control, it has the potential to impact your life and the lives of those around you in an instant. It’s one thing to yell at the broken coffee maker when you’re alone in the kitchen, but it’s quite another to swear at a co-worker in a meeting, or berate your partner in a grocery store. These situations occur when a person’s anger gets the best of them. But there are steps that can be taken to control and express anger in healthier ways that keep you out of trouble and your blood pressure down.
Let’s start with the basics. What is anger? Anger is a physiological, behavioral, and emotional response of aggression to triggers in our environment. It is a normal human emotion that has developed over time – often as a response to threat or danger. So it is not necessarily wrong or bad to be angry, however, it is what we do with that anger that can get us in trouble. Today there are social repercussions which make lashing out in anger embarrassing, socially damaging, and dangerous.
So How Does One Deal With Anger?
Start by understanding where your anger comes from. Think over the situations that have angered you most; the times when your anger was out of control. Analyze these situations and identify the triggers, (it may help to write them down). This will help identify patterns and triggers.
For example, let’s say you often find yourself getting angry in traffic. Think about the exact locations, intersections and times of day this happens. Plan future routes to avoid these chaotic spots in traffic, plan a carpool, or a bus/taxi ride. Taking the bus is healthier, and might be preferable, to having road rage every day.
Once you understand what has made you angry in the past, you will be more aware of what might irritate you to the point of no return in the future, and you can work to avoid or plan for it.
Next, pay attention to what your body is telling you. When we start to get angry, we may notice certain cues or signals within our body (e.g., increased heart rate, shaking or trembling, headache, hot feeling in the face or neck, etc.). Once we recognize these cues, we can learn to take control before things get out of hand or before we explode.
There are several things you can do to help calm yourself down when you begin to feel triggered in certain situations.
- Practice deep breathing. Take a long, slow, deep breath that comes from your diaphragm rather than from chest. Imagine blowing up a balloon in your stomach and then slowly letting the air out.
- Think of the positive things in your life. Remember those things for which you feel thankful and grateful (e.g., close family, good health, secure job, etc.)
- Sympathize with the other person (put yourself in their position and think of their struggles)
- Excuse yourself from the situation. Sometimes, it is the environment we are in that triggers our anger and frustration. If that’s the case, then take a break and walk away from the situation. Allowing ourselves some “quiet time” or “personal time” can help us regain control and deal with the situation.
- Admit you’re upset and ask to talk later. Say something like, “I’m very upset. I’m going to take a walk to think about things. But I’d like to talk more about this later.” Don’t communicate in the heat of anger. In this state it’s hard to think clearly, and you could say something you don’t mean.
- Find a physical outlet. Exercise, go to the gym or for a run, or focus on a personal/work project. Research tells us that doing something physical is a great way to work off negative feelings and improve our mood.
Anger shows there is a problem, and you shouldn’t ignore it. You can use anger to make yourself more assertive, but stay fair. For example, if you think that your spouse is not doing his/her part with household chores, don’t confront and demand that he/she cleans more. Rather, approach him/her in a calm way stating firmly what your feelings are (“I’m overwhelmed with the house work and it’s stressing me out”) and what your needs are (“I need help and support with the house work in order to feel better.”)
Never repress or bottle your anger. This will only cause it to fester, and you could become bitter or passive aggressive. Bottling up anger may result in aggression coming out in unexpected or unwelcome ways. You might take it out on your family at home, or snap at your boss a week later.
Why Do Some People Seem to Have More Trouble with Anger?
Heredity and childhood experiences both contribute to the way in which a person’s temperament and personality develop. A child growing up with family members who are easily irritated and don’t express emotions well, is more likely to be easily frustrated and angered by minor inconveniences.
Everyone is different, so it’s good to try different strategies to see what works best for you when managing anger. It won’t always be easy, but don’t give up. Self-control can be strengthened like a muscle, with practice and repetition.
If calm breathing, channeling your anger, and focusing on positive resolutions don’t help you cope with anger, you may want to consider seeking help from a therapist who can help with the steps we described. If you would like to speak to a therapist about effective ways to handle your anger, please reach out to us at Family & Child Development. We have therapists who are specifically trained to help address these issues.