Managing anger is easier said than done.
Picture this: You’ve spent a week dealing with difficult co-workers, a nitpicky boss, and managing personal problems. These big issues take up a lot of space on your emotional plate, and you decide to go to your favorite restaurant and relax.
You get out of your car and make a beeline for the queue. It’s a long wait but you pride yourself on being patient, so no big deal right?
That’s until someone rushes in and takes your spot in line, not even sparing you a glance as they make their order.
And just like that, they’ve made you overwhelmingly angry.
In situations like that, it can be really hard to keep a tight lid on your anger. But when these things happen, your anger isn’t entirely your fault nor is it out of control.
By understanding how to manage yourself, you can learn to manage your anger with a lot more ease.
The first thing you need to understand when you want to learn to control your temper, is what anger is and why there’s a need for us to feel angry sometimes.
According to the American Psychological Association, anger is a feeling of antagonism towards someone you felt has wronged you in some way. Anger is one of our most basic emotions and is easily among the ones that we feel the strongest.
Compare your experience of anger versus other emotions. When you’re angry, your blood is filled with adrenaline, your heart beats wildly in your chest, and your pupils constrict. These physical symptoms of anger are all part of how anger prepares your body for a fight or flight response.
This way, anger can give you the courage to defend yourself or other people in a physical confrontation. When people wrong you, like the hypothetical person who cut you in line, anger happens because you feel you deserved better treatment.
So is anger bad? No!
Despite its negative connotation, anger is a useful emotion helps you set your boundaries. It only becomes a problem when you start to experience anger in ways that adversely affect your life. Before it gets that bad, it’s important to start being proactive about managing your anger.
Your anger doesn’t just happen. Before you’re angry enough to shout and curse at other people, you will experience tell-tale signs of anger that you may not even notice. You can’t control your anger if you can’t tell when you’re starting to become angry.
Watch out for the immediate physical symptoms of anger. These can include a clenched jaw or fist, gritted teeth, increased heart rate, and sweating. You may start to feel warm all of a sudden, as if your blood is rushing to your face, or you may begin trembling. Many experience blurred vision as a result of higher adrenaline in their bloodstream.
When you notice a few of these occurring together in a particularly heated conversation with someone, take it as a sign that you’re angry. Acknowledge your anger and remember to be careful with what you say and do next. It's simple preventative steps like this that can mean the difference between simply having a bad day and jeopardizing a relationship.
You don’t always have the opportunity to direct your anger at what caused it. For example, in a workplace environment, venting your anger at the supervisor who stresses you out isn’t exactly the best choice if you’d like to stay employed. What happens instead is that you carry that anger with you throughout your day.
This prolonged exposure to anger doesn’t just put you at risk for coronary heart diseases, but it also means that any minor inconvenience could set you off on an unsuspecting victim. Do it enough times to the same person and don’t be surprised if they start avoiding you!
If a friend or a family member is getting on your nerves for no reason, take a moment to pause and think carefully about what you’re really angry about. Chances are, they’re not the reason you’re feeling that way.
Taking the high road isn’t the easiest thing to do in an emotionally charged situation, especially where you know you have a legitimate reason to be angry. That said, there are simply situations where you need to walk away and compose yourself again.
Walking away from a situation that isn’t likely to yield a good outcome lets you de-stimulate, and gather your thoughts. Though it may feel like admitting defeat, the comfort that comes with de-escalating your anger and being at peace with yourself is the real win in these scenarios.
Journaling might seem like a cliché tip. A lot of advice around managing anger and mental health encourage readers to journal, but the reason it’s so often said is because it works. Several research studies have shown that expressive writing, meaning writing about your feelings, helps you identify your emotions and the reasons you feel that way.
Your journal can be a safe space to organize your thoughts, curate your emotions, and dive deep into the circumstances that make you more susceptible to anger.
Bullet journal mood tracker systems are a great way to track the most dominant emotion you’ve felt in one day. At the end of the month, it serves as an easy means to identify what triggers you, and if you may be experiencing anger more frequently than normal.
You might also find Plutchik’s wheel of emotions a handy tool for explaining your thoughts and feelings in depth. Psychologist Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions groups related emotions together in a series of concentric rings that show basic emotions and the overlap between them and other emotions on the wheel.
As you continue journaling with a wheel of emotions, you may find that the anger you’re experiencing isn’t always anger. It can be simple annoyance, boredom, frustration, or even sadness.
A study published in the Acta Scientific Medical Sciences journal showed that exercise provided a healthy means to release anger. The physical tension you feel when you’re angry can be put to good use in a gym.
Instead of punching walls, sign up for boxing or krav maga lessons. Martial arts are proven to help with anger management in the long term and are not just temporary emotional reliefs. Research on aggression and participation in martial arts revealed that practicing a 'confrontational’ sport increased participants’ self-control which in turn made them less susceptible to negative emotional responses.
Ground yourself in the moment
Before psychology became an established branch of the sciences, meditation had already been recognized as a powerful tool for self-mastery. Its sheer effectiveness at aiding in emotional regulation has made it a mainstay in most anger management programs.
A study from the Japanese Journal of Psychology found that people who voluntarily practiced meditation had gradually decreased anger rumination, meaning that they thought of the things that make them angry less often.
Make time in your day for a short meditation session. Contrary to what you see in movies, meditation can be as short as just five minutes, making it easy to fit in during your lunch break. Find a quiet spot in your office or school library and begin taking deep, slow breaths.
As you breathe, draw your attention to how your body is situated within a space. Are your shoulders tense? Loosen them and guide your awareness down your arms, all the way to your toes. With each breath you take, slowly let go of the tension you’re holding in different areas of your body.
Researchers Demerouti and Cropanzano found that venting your anger isn’t an effective way of controlling your temper. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: venting made you more likely to feel angry.
Their study tracked the diaries of 112 employees who were asked to record negative events throughout their day and rate their severity. There was one difference between their study and others like it, though: Demerouti and Cropazano asked their participants to record how much they talked about their problems.
The result? The people who griped the most experienced negative moods more often. Aside from anger, they were less likely to be happy or feel positive about their accomplishments in the workplace.
That doesn’t mean it’s healthy to bottle your emotions, however. It just means that you should think about your anger in a different way. The next time you find yourself ready to vent to a friend, pause and think of how you can relate your emotions in a constructive and healthy manner.
Instead of saying, “They make me so angry! Don’t they realize how wrong they are?” try saying “I feel frustrated that they can’t seem to understand my perspective. I know we have different viewpoints but the language they used was hurtful.”
It’s still the same feeling, but expressed in a manner that gives more nuance to the situation and lets you understand why you’re feeling that way.
Spending hours mindlessly scrolling on your phone doesn’t just make you less productive – it also makes you likelier to get angry.
Research conducted on anger and fear-based behaviors online found that people who are angry seek out posts and tweets that affirm their views. If they find an opinion that goes against their own, they are likelier to engage in a heated debate. These online arguments only serve to make them angrier, which makes them even more likely to be aggressive online. It’s a self-defeating cycle that keeps you feeling angry and miserable.
Next time you find yourself about to hit ‘reply to tweet’, stop and think of how many minutes of your life you’ll end up dedicating to this. Coming from a place of anger and opposition might feel like the natural response, but it doesn’t help convince others of your opinion. They’ll resist and you’ll only end up getting angrier.
If you’ve tried every tip on the internet and still can’t find a technique that helps you calm down, it may be time to figure out whether your anger is still healthy.
Unhealthy levels of anger can show up in different ways. You may experience unhealthy anger as a low intensity but chronic emotion, or, you may experience anger in sudden bursts that overwhelm you and the people around you.
Once you notice yourself being verbally abusive or even physically abusive towards your friends and family, it may be time to consider seeing a mental health professional.
Anger management issues are sometimes more than just having a hard time not blowing a fuse. It can be a sign of depression, a mood disorder, or PTSD. This is because anger is a reaction to something that distresses you and sometimes that something isn’t just an argument with a spouse.
A therapist has the skillset to help you navigate your anger and the difficult emotions behind it. As neutral third parties, therapists have an objective view of your situation. This means that they can listen to your anger without feeling hurt, unlike family members who may respond with defensiveness and their own anger.
It’s hard to acknowledge that our anger is becoming unhealthy for ourselves and others. But admitting that there’s something wrong is the first step towards getting help and improving your control over your anger.
Try reaching out to local anger management support groups. Addresses, contact numbers, and other information about anger management resources are typically available online.
Seeking anger management therapy is also an excellent option to help manage anger issues. Finding a good therapist ensures that you get timely help with your anger problems.
At Mind + Zest, we have a dedicated team of Ontario board approved therapists who are armed with the tools to help you treat and overcome your anger management issues. Want to get started? Head to Mind + Zest and book a free intake session with one of our intake specialists. Let us help you gain back control of your emotions, relationships and life!