Time to get your anger under control?
A closer look at managing your anger
Everyone gets angry at one time or another. Anger is a normal human emotion. It’s how a person acts when feeling angry that can be problematic. When anger builds in intensity or gets out of control, people can behave in ways that are destructive. In fact, anger can become so intense that the feeling itself may be better described as rage. When anger gets out of control, it can lead to problems in personal relationships, particularly if anger leads to emotionally or physically abusive behavior or other acts of violence.
The good news is that people can learn to manage their anger. In some cases this means learning to express anger in healthy ways, learning to keep yourself calm and controlling your reactions when faced with something that triggers your anger and avoiding people or situations that make you angry or enraged, or leaving a situation if you feel yourself becoming angry or losing control.
Expressing anger in healthy ways
Communicating assertively—not aggressively—is a good way to express anger in a healthy way, while maintaining effective communication. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means expressing your feelings and needs in a way that is respectful of yourself and others. Generally this works best if used before your anger gets out of control.
For example, let’s suppose you are in a cafeteria line just about to get your tray when someone steps in ahead of you. An aggressive response might be, “Hey, buddy, who do you think you are? Go to the back of the line.” An assertive response might be, “Sorry, but I think I’m next. The line forms over here.”
A physiological response also happens when a person gets angry. Heart rate increases and muscles become tense. These physiological responses can actually be cues that signal the person that they are becoming angry. Recognizing those cues and learning how to calm internal responses when faced with a person or situation that arouses anger can help angry feelings subside.
Different relaxation strategies might also be helpful:
Repeatedly telling yourself to remain calm or take it easy
Counting from 10 backwards
Imagining or visualizing an image that helps you relax or feel calm
These responses can also be used before coming face to face with the person or situation—almost as a way to anticipate or prepare for what is stressful.
Remembering to slow down and stopping to think before reacting can also help you keep your cool. Reacting impulsively to what someone else says or does can fuel anger. By slowing down and stopping to think, you are better able to listen and really hear what the other person is trying to communicate. By stopping to think you can also give yourself time to think of other ways of solving the problem you might be facing.
Controlling your reactions
At times the things we say to ourselves or think when faced with a situation or person who makes us angry, can actually fuel your anger. The scientific term for changing your thinking is “cognitive restructuring” and it’s a technique rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy. Changing the way you think means switching up the irrational kinds of messages you give yourself to those that are more logical. For example, switching your thought patterns from “this is how things HAVE be” to “I’d ‘prefer’ this, but I can survive if it’s not…”.
Avoiding or leaving a stressful situation
In some cases, a person can identify the situations that often trigger their anger. Staying away from the situation isn’t always an option, but in some instances it could be. For example, if you know that it really pisses you off to see your old girlfriend hanging with her new partner, you might want to avoid going to their favorite place to hang out. It doesn’t mean you will never go where they are, but maybe avoiding them initially while you are getting over the break up might help you keep your cool.
Also, if you feel yourself getting angry, another option is to leave the situation before things escalate. Sometimes people feel that leaving isn’t always easy to do because your reputation or need for respect is on the line. Cognitive restructuring might be useful as a way of challenging these thoughts.
It’s important that you give yourself the space you need to become level headed. If you don’t, you may end up saying or doing things you later regret. Tell the other people or person that you need to take a walk, and when everyone is able to talk calmly again, you’ll continue the conversation. It’s okay to have boundaries like this.
Once you’re out of that situation, take some time for yourself and use your coping skills to come to a centered place. If you don’t have any coping skills and need ideas, check out our article on Developing Coping Strategies.
How might counseling help?
All of the above mentioned anger management techniques, and others, are skills that a counselor or other mental health professional can help you develop. If you feel that your anger is out of control and it’s affecting your relationships and other important parts of your life, you might consider counseling to learn how to better manage your anger. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in helping people manage anger and aggressive and violent behaviors.
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Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com