Anger is a universal experience, and is a normal healthy emotion. We can feel angry as a result of day-to-day incidents like being cut up in traffic, or in response to wider issues such as witnessing injustice or oppression in the world around us.
Like any emotion, anger conveys a message, telling us that a situation is upsetting, unjust or threatening. It can lead to positive outcomes when it drives us to work through issues or problems, and it can help to keep us safe in dangerous situations. However, anger can become problematic if it causes aggression, outbursts or lashing out. So, whilst it is perfectly normal to feel angry if we have been mistreated or wronged, anger can become an issue if we respond to it in a way that harms ourselves or others around us.
If you are struggling to manage your feelings of anger, or are concerned about the effect of your angry outbursts, read on for some tips on managing feelings of anger in the short and long-term.
Dealing with Anger in the Moment
If you are in a situation which is causing your anger to rise, there is a real risk that you will say or do something which you might regret later. Here are some of ways to help manage your feelings of anger in the heat of the moment:
Countdown – if your anger starts to rise, try counting down (or up) to 10. If you are feeling really mad, you can start at 100! In the time it takes you to count, your heart rate and breathing will have a chance to slow down and you will begin to feel more in control of your actions.
Take some deep breaths – our breathing can be come shallower and faster as we become angry. To reverse this, try taking some slow, deliberate breaths, inhaling in through the nose and out through the mouth. After a few moments, this should help to calm your breathing, as well as your feelings of anger.
Stop talking – in the heat of your anger, you may say something which you later regret. When you feel your anger rising, instead of responding immediately, try and force yourself to stay quiet for a few moments. This pause without speaking will give you time to gather your thoughts, so that you can respond to the situation clearly and directly, and without hurting others.
Find a mantra – find a word or phrase that helps you to calm down and refocus. This could be anything, from “take it easy” or “relax” to “bananas and custard” – whatever works for you! The key is that, by consciously repeating this mantra to yourself for a few moments, you will give yourself time to regain control of your emotions.
Give yourself a timeout – timeouts aren’t just for kids! Taking yourself away from others, and having a few quiet moments to yourself, can really help you to calm down and process the situation. You can then take any necessary action once you are back in control of your emotions.
Tackling Long-Term Anger
For many people, anger is a short-lived emotion, and the ideas listed above may be enough to keep it in check. But what if you feel that your anger is overwhelming you, or you find that you are still very angry about incidents which happened in the past? To tackle long-term anger, we need to take a closer look at what our anger is telling us, and what benefits it is currently providing. The key to anger management is not to try and suppress all feelings of anger, but to understand the message behind the emotion and learn to express it in a healthy way and without losing control.
A first step in managing chronic anger is to ask yourself “what am I really angry about?”. For example, we can often use anger as a way of masking feelings of anxiety, hurt or embarrassment. Identifying the real source of frustration will help you communicate your anger better, take constructive action, and work towards a resolution.
As well as understanding the root cause of your anger more clearly, the following techniques can be helpful if you find yourself getting angry more often than you would like:
Incorporate relaxation into your daily routine – ensuring that we are physically and mentally calm can help us to control anger in the long term. To foster a relaxed mental state, you can try mindfulness, yoga or meditation exercises – there are plenty of free tutorials available on YouTube as well as a wide range of apps which can help with this. A quick and easy technique to try is visualising yourself in a calm and tranquil setting – this could be a real place, such as a favourite holiday spot, or you can let your imagination run wild and create the ultimate personally-tailored paradise. Imagine you are in this space, and concentrate on the senses associated with it – what does it smell like? Are there any sounds like birdsong or flowing water? How warm/cold are you? If you feel your anger is rising, try and retreat to this imaginary idyll and take some deep breaths to get yourself back under control.
Find a safe outlet for your anger – whilst it is unreasonable to try and eradicate all anger from our lives, it may be possible to relieve angry feelings more constructively. Physical activity such as going for a run can be a great way to channel feelings of anger in the moment, and in the long term can help reduce the build-up of stress and tension. Writing can be another great way of expressing your anger, and can give you the opportunity to calm down and process the events which triggered these feelings. Or, if writing isn’t your thing, you could try something more artistic or creative as a way of expressing how you are feeling inside.
Practice empathy – the cause of our anger can often be the actions of another person, and it can be helpful to try and see the situation from their perspective before responding aggressively. For example, if someone cuts us up in traffic we may instinctively blare the horn or even make a rude gesture – but what if we were able to imagine what might be happening for the other driver? Perhaps they are driving with less care than usual because they are responding to an emergency or maybe they have just received some bad news. By considering what the other person may be experiencing it can feel less like an attack directed at us personally, and this new perspective can help reduce our angry responses. Empathy is a skill which can be developed so try practising it as part of your everyday life – for example, the next time you speak with someone, try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how the interaction felt from their side.
In conclusion, healthy anger can be a powerful tool which can energise and motivate us to take positive action in the face of injustice. It can provide us with a sense of control, and stops us from feeling helpless. It can even help us to reach our goals and can give us the drive to keep going in the face of adversity. However, it is important that we channel our anger in a controlled way, so that we do not risk harming ourselves or the people around us.