Anger is a perfectly normal, and sometimes justified feeling, and can be quite productive when channeled positively. It can help us stand up for what we believe in, for example. The issue with anger occurs when it leads to aggression and other negative consequences. Being in control of our anger is important to stop us saying or doing something we may regret when we’ve calmed down. Feeling angry is fine, but here’s some tips to help you stay in control of anger rather than letting it control you.
If anything, being told to take 10 deep breaths when you’re angry might make you more frustrated, but there’s a reason for it. Our breath becomes more shallow as we get angry so forcing ourselves to focus on taking deeper, more relaxing breaths takes our attention momentarily away from the intense feeling of anger and into our body. As you’re taking these deep breaths think about the most productive way to resolve the issue that has made you angry, even if it’s not exactly what you want to do right now. While focusing on your breathing you might also consider repeating a mantra to help you regain a sense of calm. Try something like ‘I am annoyed but I can relax’ or ‘let this feeling pass’. Again, switching our attention to anything except the thing that’s made you angry is a useful tool to step back from the situation and reframe the problem.
Avoid the Explosion
Letting the anger out is better than keeping it in, but there are good and bad ways of doing this. Holding it in until you explode like a shaken fizzy drink is not ideal, so consider talking to friends and family about the mild irritants in work and life and that cause negative thoughts to build up. This might also help you reconsider certain friendships or even your work – is this really what you want if it’s causing all this frustration? If you can’t find an outlet before you feel the anger bubbling up, be sure to express yourself as calmly and clearly as you can. Use I statements such as ‘I am struggling to see your point of view, can you explain it again’ or ” I don’t like this idea, can we come up with one that suits everyone’. Using I statements avoids placing blame and can stop the other person from getting angry too and escalating the situation. If you are getting frustrated with something rather than someone, walk away and do something else to help calm you down and return to it when you feel more at ease or when you’ve come up with a solution. Flat pack furniture – need I say more?
Sometimes the best thing for dealing with anger is to distract yourself from it and the situation that created it in the first place. The thing about anger is that it can be a very physical emotion, so reading a book might not work for you. Exercise is a great way of working out the physical and mental feelings of anger. It doesn’t have to be boxing, or it could be, but running, weight lifting, walking and even yoga are also great ways of moving our bodies and releasing the tension that anger can cause. If none of those sound appealing maybe talking to friends and family, watching TV or a jigsaw puzzle is more your pace. Whatever works for you, when you feel calmer go back to the person or thing and try again.
Keep a Log
Some of us have trouble recognising when we’re angry or what makes us angry. If this sounds familiar it might be useful tracking your anger in a mood diary, either in an app or on paper. Make a note of when you feel something didn’t go to plan and how it made you feel on a scale of 1-10. Can you also name some emotions you felt and what helped you feel calmer? Lastly, did you resolve the issue and if so, how? This can help you discover what anger feels like for you, what makes you angry and what helps you deal with it.
Think of Solutions, not just Problems
You’ve gotten angry because something has bothered you. Your mind is trying to bring your attention to something – rightly or wrongly. Deep breaths, distractions and walking away have their place but there are also times when we need to face the anger and ask why this keeps happening. Do you just not get on with this person, do you need to leave earlier so you don’t get stuck in traffic, do you need a different job, to break up, to quit this hobby? Come up with ways of dealing with whatever, or whoever, has made you angry without using aggression. Ultimately, you need to take the time to figure out the solution to your anger, which might be walking away or it could be something more life changing.
Other Useful Tips
Some lifestyle changes might also help combat anger before it even starts. If you notice you get angry when you drink or use recreational drugs, they are probably best avoided. Even certain people and situations might be best interacted with when you’re in a good mood as sometimes people and places can cause upset and frustration. If none of these things seem to help, it might be time to consider professional advice. Spectrum Mental Health provide Anger Management Services which are available both face-to-face and online.
–Written by Clare O’Brien, IACP, BACP. PSI. Clare is a psychotherapist with a MSc from the University of Edinburgh in counselling and psychotherapy. Since graduating in 2012 she has worked in a variety of settings including private practice, low cost and free counselling centres and 3rd level institutions.