Anger is a normal human emotion, and it can be very helpful! It can motivate us to take action when we feel threatened or that we need to protect others who are in danger.
But for some, anger feels too intense or too frequent. This can look like daily frustration or having a short fuse for irritations and can escalate into intense rage or fury that seems to come out of nowhere. This post includes some tips to help you better manage your anger.
Step 1: Know Your Triggers
One of the first steps in managing anger effectively is to increase your awareness about the types of situations that usually trigger an anger response in you. Consider the things which typically set you off. Some common examples:
• being cut off in traffic
• running late
• other people running late
• losing, misplacing or breaking something
• friend/roommate/family member leaving a mess or breaking something
• other people not doing what they “should” or promised
• other people mistreating you or telling you "no"
• things not going as planned/desired
Some of these situations can be preventable, like planning ahead to avoid running late. Other situations are outside of your control, like being cut off in traffic. With these, the only thing you have control over is your response, and that is something you can get better at with practice.
Step 2: Know Your Physical Warning Signs
All of our emotions start in our bodies somewhere and send little signals to our brain. Reflect on what usually happens in your body when you get angry. If you aren’t sure, start to pay attention to your physical sensations the next few times you get irritable or angry. Awareness of your body’s "alarm system" will help you to spot anger early on, which gives you a better chance of managing it the way you’d like. Common physical warnings are:
• feeling of tightness inside
• feeling of pressure or a charge of energy
• feeling hot or flushed
• face turning red or sweating
• clenched jaw or grinding teeth
• tense muscles or balled fists
• pounding or racing heart
• head pounding
• wanting to be physical
Step 3: Identify Why You Are Angry
When you notice your warning signs start, pause and ask yourself what might be causing the anger response. Often there is a reasonable trigger for your anger, so give yourself credit that the anger makes sense. You aren’t bad for feeling anger. Anger happens in every human to motivate us to act. Anger gives us the fuel we need to protect ourselves or the people, things, and goals we care about. Knowing the reasons why you are feeling something can sometimes help motivate you to control the emotion more effectively.
Step 4: Assess Your Level of Anger - is it appropriate?
After you figure out why you're angry, next you can work to identify the level or amount of anger that proportionally matches that particular situation (ex. it doesn’t fit to stay angry all day simply because your roommate left their shorts on the floor, or to take out the anger on your parents when it’s your roommate you’re angry with). Consider how much the particular situation will matter in one day or one week or one month from now? Is it a significant issue that warrants intense emotion? Is it something more minor that can be coped with to avoid bigger consequences?
Step 5: Cool Down Your Anger
Once you know why you're angry and the amount of anger you really want to have, the process of cooling it down feels more like a purposeful choice you can make. If you learn to pause when you first recognize the warning signs of anger inside you, you’ll have time to use the following strategies:
✸ Take a step back - simply remove yourself from the person or situation for a moment (or ten!), to give yourself time and space to cool down and think carefully before you react. For example, when you notice your jaw clenching and face flushing during an argument with your partner, say “I need to take a walk, let’s talk when I get back.”
✸ Distract yourself - if you can't leave the situation, try to distract yourself from whatever is causing anger by slowing and counting your breaths, listening to music or a podcast, calling a friend to talk about a different topic, or doing a task that takes your mental focus (ex. a chore or word puzzle). For example, if you are stuck in traffic and getting angry, put on your favorite song or give yourself the task to find letters in alphabetical order on license plates or street signs.
✸ Use humor - humor can be a helpful emotional redirect from anger feelings. For example, if you are angry at the customer in front of you for being “as dumb as a box of rocks,” you can try to envision the person trapped in a box, looking like a rock with sad googly eyeballs, barely able to peek their head out. Or watch a comedy clip on YouTube, for laughter and distraction. If you can get yourself to chuckle, it will shift your attention away from building up more anger.
✸ Relax - the way we feel in our body can impact the way we experience emotions. Relaxation strategies, like taking slow deep breaths in and out, doing a quick burst of physical activity, or progressively tensing and relaxing each of the muscle groups in your body, can help reduce anger simply by controlling your body.
✸ Choose helpful thoughts - your thoughts also affect your emotions. Focusing on negative thoughts like “this shouldn't be happening” will maintain or increase your anger. If anger is a recurring problem, you can increase your sense of control by identifying some helpful, balanced thoughts to draw from before you get angry. For example:
“I can handle this.”
“This situation does not control me.”
“I am in charge of my anger. Other people are not in charge of me."
“This situation is only temporary.”
For some, frequent or intense anger is a clue that there is something deeper going on. Maybe anger is masking a depression you are in. Maybe anger is happening because life is not as you want it. Maybe you are angry about being stuck or unfulfilled.
Anger, like all emotions, is a clue that there is a need popping up for you. It's worth looking into. What is your anger trying to tell you?