Tips and Techniques for Getting Anger Under Control
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion, but when chronic, explosive anger spirals out of control, it can have serious consequences for your relationships, your health, and your state of mind.
With insight about the real reasons for your anger and these anger management tools, you can learn to keep your temper from hijacking your life.
What you can do
- Learn to recognize the feelings behind your anger
- Identify situations that trigger your anger and avoid them whenever possible
- Take full, slow in-and-out breaths before doing anything else
- Take the edge off anger by moving and exercise vigorously
- Share your feelings face-to-face with interested family members and friends
Why is anger something you need to control but not crush?
The emotion of anger is neither good nor bad. Like any emotion, it’s conveying a message, telling you that a situation is upsetting, or unjust, or threatening. If your kneejerk reaction to anger is to explode, however, that message never has a chance to be conveyed. So while it’s perfectly normal to feel angry when you’ve been mistreated or wronged, anger becomes a problem when you express it in a way that harms yourself or others. That’s where anger management comes in.
- The aim of anger management isn’t to suppress feelings of anger but rather to understand the message behind the emotion and express it in a healthy way without losing control.
- When you do, you’ll not only feel better, you’ll also be more likely to get your needs met, be better able to manage conflict in your life, and strengthen your relationships.
- Mastering the art of anger management takes work, but the more you practice, the easier it will become.
|Myths and facts about anger and anger management|
Myth: I shouldn’t “hold in” my anger. It’s healthy to vent and let it out.
Fact: While it’s true that suppressing and ignoring anger is unhealthy, venting is no better. Anger is not something you have to “let out” in an aggressive way in order to avoid blowing up. In fact, outbursts and tirades only fuel the fire and reinforce your anger problem.
Myth: Anger, aggression, and intimidation help me earn respect and get what I want.
Fact: Respect doesn’t come from bullying others. People may be afraid of you, but they won’t respect you if you can’t control yourself or handle opposing viewpoints. Others will be more willing to listen to you and accommodate your needs if you communicate in a respectful way.
Myth: I can’t help myself. Anger isn’t something you can control.
Fact: You can’t always control the situation you’re in or how it makes you feel, but you can control how you express your anger. And you can express your anger without being verbally or physically abusive. Even if someone is pushing your buttons, you always have a choice about how to respond.
How out of control anger can affect you
Out-of-control anger hurts your physical health. Constantly operating at high levels of stress and anger makes you more susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, a weakened immune system, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
Out-of-control anger hurts your mental health. Chronic anger consumes huge amounts of mental energy and clouds your thinking, making it harder to concentrate or enjoy life. It can also lead to stress, depression, and other mental health problems.
Out-of-control anger hurts your career. Constructive criticism, creative differences, and heated debate can be healthy. But lashing out only alienates your colleagues, supervisors, or clients and erodes their respect.
Out-of-control anger hurts your relationships with others. It causes lasting scars in the people you love most and gets in the way of friendships and work relationships. Explosive anger makes it hard for others to trust you, speak honestly, or feel comfortable—and is especially damaging to children.
How what you feel can work for you
Though out of control anger is a liability, anger is an emotion we need for survival. There are times when we need to fight for our lives or for what we believe in. The following tips can help you better understand your anger and get it under control so that what you feel can work for and not against your best interest.
Tip 1: Explore what may be behind your anger
Anger problems often stem from what you’ve learned as a child. If you watched others in your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, you might think this is how anger is supposed to be expressed.
Anger is often a cover-up for other feelings
In order to express your anger in appropriate ways, you need to be in touch with what you are really feeling. Is your anger masking other feelings such as embarrassment, insecurity, hurt, shame, or vulnerability?
If your knee-jerk response in many situations is anger, it’s likely that your temper is covering up your true feelings. This is especially likely if you grew up in a family where expressing feelings was strongly discouraged. As an adult, you may have a hard time acknowledging feelings other than anger. Anger can also be a symptom of underlying health problems, such as depression, trauma, or chronic stress.
Clues that there’s more to your anger
You have a hard time compromising. Is it hard for you to understand other people’s points of view, and even harder to concede a point? If you grew up in a family where anger was out of control, you may remember how the angry person got his or her way by being the loudest and most demanding. Compromising might bring up scary feelings of failure and vulnerability.
You have trouble expressing emotions other than anger. Do you pride yourself on being tough and in control? Do you feel that emotions like fear, guilt, or shame don’t apply to you? Everyone has those emotions so you may be using anger as a cover for them.
You view different opinions as a personal challenge. Do you believe that your way is always right and get angry when others disagree? If you have a strong need to be in control or a fragile ego, you may interpret other perspectives as a challenge to your authority, rather than simply a different way of looking at things.
Reconnect with your emotions to manage anger
If you are uncomfortable with different emotions, disconnected, or stuck on an angry one-note response to situations, it’s important to get back in touch with your feelings.
HelpGuide’s Emotional Intelligence Toolkit can help you recognize and manage the full range of emotions, even the painful ones you may have been covering up with anger. Learn more.
Tip 2: Recognize anger warning signs and triggers
Anger fuels the body’s “fight or flight” response so while you might feel that you just explode without warning, there are physical warning signs that your body is preparing to react. Recognizing these signs allows you to take steps to manage your anger before it boils over.
Note how anger feels in your body. Is your stomach knotted, your hands or jaw clenched, your muscles tense? Do you feel clammy or flushed? Is your heart pounding or are you breathing faster?
Identify negative thought patterns that trigger anger. You may think that external things—frustrating people or situations—are causing your anger. But anger problems have more to do with negative thinking patterns, such as having a rigid view of the way things should be and getting angry when reality doesn’t match up. Or maybe you overlook the positive things while letting small irritations mount? Or do you blame others for bad things that happen rather than taking responsibility for your own life?
Recognize situations that trigger anger. Stressful events don’t excuse anger, but understanding how these events affect you can help you avoid unnecessary aggravation. Do you get into a fight every time you go out for drinks with certain friends? Or does the traffic on your daily commute drive you crazy? Think about ways to avoid these triggers or view the situation differently so it doesn’t provoke anger.
Tip 3: Learn ways to diffuse anger
Once you recognize the warning signs, you can take steps to manage your anger before it spins out of control.
Even just a brisk walk around the block can release pent-up energy and enable you to approach the situation with a cooler head. Not only does exercise relieves stress, lower blood pressure, and release powerful endorphins that improve your mood, it can also put some welcome time and space between you and the stressful or frustrating situation.
Rather than focusing on your anger as you exercise, focus instead on how your body feels as you move—such as the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, or the feeling of the wind on your skin, or the rhythm of your breathing. And if you know that you're going to be entering a situation that will likely make you angry, try to exercise beforehand—it can help keep your mood stable.
The more stressed you are, the more likely you are to lose your temper. But no matter how stressful your life seems, there are steps you can take to relieve the pressure and regain control.
Connect regularly with friends and family. There is nothing more calming to your nervous system than communicating face to face with people who care about you. Your friends don’t have to be able to fix your stress; they just need to be good listeners.
Practice relaxation techniques. A daily relaxation practice can help reduce stress and boost feelings of well-being. Try yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Getting enough sleep, eating well, reducing your caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and sugar intake, and making time for fun in your life can increase your resistance to stress and make it easier to manage anger.
Tip 4: Manage anger in the moment
In certain situations—an argument with your boss, for example—taking time out to go for a walk or hit the gym may not be practical. These tips can help you cool down in the moment:
Focus on the physical sensations of anger. While it may seem counterintuitive, tuning into the way your body feels when you’re angry often lessens the emotional intensity of your anger.
Take some deep breaths. Deep, slow breathing helps counteract rising tension. Breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much air as possible into your lungs.
Use your senses. Take advantage of the relaxing power of your senses—sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. You might try picturing yourself in a favorite place or squeezing a stress ball.
Stretch or massage areas of tension. Roll your shoulders if you are tensing them, for example, or gently massage your neck and scalp.
Slowly count to ten. Focus on the counting to let your rational mind catch up with your feelings. If you still feel out of control by the time you reach ten, start counting again.
Take a moment to think about the situation. Ask yourself: How important is it in the grand scheme of things? Is it really worth getting angry about it? Is my response appropriate to the situation?
Tip 5: Know when to seek professional help
If you’ve tried these anger management techniques and your anger is still spiraling out of control, you may need more help. There are many therapists, classes, and programs for people with anger management problems. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
Consider professional help for anger management if:
- You feel constantly frustrated and angry no matter what you try.
- Your temper causes problems at work or in your relationships.
- You avoid new events and people because you feel like you can’t control your temper.
- You have gotten in trouble with the law due to your anger.
- Your anger has ever led to physical violence.
If your loved one has an anger management problem
You may feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells, but remember you’re not to blame for your loved one’s anger management problem. And there’s no excuse for physically or verbally abusive behavior.
Dealing with a loved one’s anger management problem
While you can’t control another person’s anger, you can control how you respond to it:
- Set clear boundaries about what you will and will not tolerate.
- Wait for a time when you are both calm to talk to your loved one about the anger problem. Don’t bring it up when either one of you is already angry.
- Remove yourself from the situation if your loved one does not calm down.
- Consider counseling or therapy if you are having a hard time standing up for yourself.
- Put your safety first. If you feel unsafe or threatened in any way, get away from your loved one.
Anger isn’t the real problem in abusive relationships
Despite what many believe, domestic violence and abuse is not due to the abuser’s loss of control over his temper, but a deliberate choice to control you. If you are in an abusive relationship, know that your partner needs specialized treatment, not traditional anger management.
More help for emotional health
- Effective Communication: Improving Communication Skills in Your Work and Personal Relationships
- Stress Relief in the Moment: Using Your Senses to Quickly Change Your Response to Stress
- Conflict Resolution Skills: Building the Skills That Can Turn Conflicts into Opportunities
Resources and references
Understanding and controlling anger
Controlling Anger Before it Controls You – An overview on the origins of excessive anger, tips on coping, and when to seek more help. (American Psychological Association)
What Your Anger May Be Hiding – Explores some of the complicated reasons behind excessive anger, including a need to self soothe, feel powerful, or avoid intimacy. (Psychology Today)
The effects of out-of-control anger
The Cost of Anger – Discover the physical and mental costs of anger and why you may be unwittingly setting yourself up as a victim of your anger. (Pegasus NLP Mind-Body Health Site)
Anger management tips and techniques
Dealing with the Anger Habit – New ideas on getting a handle on your anger, including a goal of addressing one trigger a week. (Pegasus NLP Mind-Body Health Site)
Professional help for anger management
Anger management – Discusses what types of treatment are available for anger management, and when you should consider them. (Mayo Clinic)
Anger and Trauma – Learn why anger is such a common response following trauma and how it should be treated when it's a symptom of PTSD. (National Center for PTSD)
Helping a loved one with anger management
When You Love an Angry Person – Provides an overview of anger causes, tips on fighting fair, ways to approach a loved one, and when you need more help. (Get Your Angries Out)
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