Anger is a strange emotion – it is as natural as joy or fear, but it can have catastrophic effects on the people around you and on your own health and mental wellbeing. Anger can be a good thing because it can help you overcome hard feelings and negative emotions. It can motivate you to change things or situations so that you gain control in your life. But while the emotion itself is not a problem, the way we channel our anger can be used for negative or productive uses. This is why it is important to learn how to control anger so that it can’t control you.
Learning how to manage anger by understanding it
Anger is a normal human emotion and just like any other emotion it varies in intensity, from feeling mild annoyance to outbursts of violent rage. Anger causes your heart rate to increase and blood pressure to shoot up because it pumps adrenaline and noradrenaline through your system in response to a perceived external threat.
We all feel angry from time to time but we differ in how we know how to manage anger. Uncontrolled rage can lead to aggression in verbal form (yelling and screaming) or physical form (hitting and pushing). It is never acceptable to express anger in ways that bring harm to you or those around you.
Becoming aware of anger issues
Being aware and learning how to manage anger is critical to good mental health. If you are someone who tends to get angry frequently, consider the following techniques that can help you understand how to manage your anger. Make sure to practice these techniques regularly and seek the assistance of a loved one if necessary.
- Make a list of your anger triggers: We all have a few things that never fail to make us angry. If you are aware of triggers that may cause you to lose your temper, you will be able to control the emotional reaction to them. An important part of learning how to control anger is learning what makes you angry. This allows you to avoid the triggers or create strategies to cope with them better.
- Take a time out: A ‘time out’ is when you move away from a potentially explosive situation and give yourself space and time to calm down. Losing your temper makes you do or say things that you may regret later. Reacting in anger can be destructive at work and in your personal life. By stepping away from a situation when you are angry, you give it time to defuse and become less risky. Ask for a break and come back when you have a clearer head.
- Control your breathing: Anger creates many physical reactions in your body because it triggers the flight or fight reaction. You can consciously redirect your body to relax by breathing deeply and slowly to communicate to your body that you are calm. This has a calming effect on your anger too. Take about five deep breaths from your belly and relax the facial and arm muscles.
- Talk yourself off the ledge: When you lose your temper, your emotions spiral out of control in reaction. You may be prone to overreacting or unnecessary negative thoughts. Self-talk can dramatically alter the outcome of a situation by changing the narrative. By telling yourself that you can manage the situation calmly, you can change your reaction and learn how to control anger.
- Make use of imagery: When you feel anger building up, picture yourself in a situation that instantly puts you at ease. This is a simple mind hack that is easier said than done, but it may help you. Imagine yourself in your childhood home, talking to a beloved family member, or on a beach somewhere. Any location or activity that you find relaxing will help you figure out how to manage anger.
- Exercise: Many people find it helpful to express their anger in a physical exercise. Losing your temper can cause your energy level to surge as part of the flight or fight response. This is why some people react by throwing things or lashing out in anger. By channeling the pent-up rage into exercise, you use it more productively and will be able to work through those emotions.
When is it time to learn how to control anger?
If you’re reading this, you know anger management is a problem in your life, either because of your own reactions or those of someone close to you. It is important to know that anger is a normal reaction but it could be a cause of concern when it starts to affect your daily life and make you react in ways that may harm you or someone around you.
These are some signs that it is time to learn how to manage anger:
- Feeling that anger is necessary to get people to behave in a certain manner
- Doing or saying things while angry that you regret later
- Using alcohol and drugs to deal with anger
- Finding it incredibly difficult to hold back your anger
- Expressing anger through aggression, either physical or verbal
- Bottling up emotions and feelings till they explode
- Feeling guilt or distress after bouts of anger
- Physical and mental withdrawal from situations and people
- Constant feelings of overwhelming anger
Learn how to manage anger by identifying where it comes from
While anger management techniques allow you to diffuse explosive situations before they get out of hand, it is important that you address the underlying causes of frequent outbursts. Conflict, disagreement and disappointment are inevitable parts of life but you do not always need to react to them with a physical or emotional outburst.
Understanding the root of your anger and addressing it is the best way to eradicate it. This will also have better long-term results than trying to learn how to control your anger. Unresolved feelings that have built up over time may be the underlying cause, but it may also be a physical issue like blood pressure. For some people, anger is the result of their belief systems about how the world should be. Accepting that the world may not always be the way you want it to be is helpful and will melt away feelings of anger and frustration.
Practicing relaxation techniques and mindfulness on a daily basis can go a long way in releasing and accepting things and will reduce the stressors that lead to anger issues.
Learn to manage anger by recognizing emotions that feel like anger
Sometimes we feel that expressing certain emotions makes us appear weak or leaves us vulnerable. Those emotions may appear as anger but in these cases, anger is just the reaction and not the real feeling. By understanding this, it will be easier to know how to control anger and reactions.
Here are some emotions that may feel like anger:
- Loneliness or a loss of connection with those around you
- Feelings of unworthiness and unfair treatment
- Sadness or hurt
- Inability to be in charge of life and situations
- Embarrassment or humiliation
- Feeling misunderstood
- Feeling scared or frightened
How to control anger when it leads to violence
When anger leads to aggression or violence, it becomes a cause of major concern. It can affect the quality of your life and your relationships with those around you, especially those closest to you. Aggressive or violent anger includes:
- Verbal attacking yourself or others by means of shouting, screaming and using abusive language
- Physically assaulting yourself or others by pushing, punching and hitting
- Using manipulative behaviors which are verbal or physical in nature
If you resort to aggression to vent your anger, it overpowers your reason and your code of behaviour. For many who have lashed out in anger, it feels like when anger takes over, you are no longer in control. However the reality is that you can learn how to manage anger by recognizing the warning signs.
Do remember that while you may injure or cause damage to others when you become violently angry, you are also causing harm to your mental health and physical wellbeing.
Aggression in any form especially physical violence is a major criminal offense in Australia and should never be tolerated or accepted as normal behavior. It is not the ideal response to any form of threat or confrontation. If you think you are losing control of your anger, seek help immediately before it escalates into legal problems for you. If you or someone you know is the victim of aggressive behavior, get away and seek help immediately.
How to manage anger by recognizing the warning signs
Before you can understand and learn how to control your anger, it is imperative that you recognize the warning signs. These signs are often physical in nature and let you know that your body is prepping for the fight or flight response. It is far easier to know how to manage anger when you can recognize these signs and take the necessary steps before the situation explodes. The signs are:
- Your heart rate increases, breathing becomes labored and you start to sweat
- Feeling a tightening of your muscles, especially those of the jaws or your arms
- Experiencing heat within the body and your face begins to flush
- Pressure begins to build up within your head, making it feel like it’s going to explode
Learn how to control anger with the ANGER protocol
One of the easiest techniques to implement when it comes to learning how to manager anger is the ANGER technique. This involves five steps:
- A: Acknowledge the stressors and triggers of your anger
- N: Neutralize the situation as quickly as possible
- G: Get to the underlying causes of your anger by introspection and self-awareness
- E: Explore the options and ideas at your disposal and give them a try
- R: Reach out to friends, family, loved ones and other professionals
Learn how to control anger by getting help
If these tips aren’t working, it may be time to get help from a professional. Remember you are not in this alone and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, taking charge of your mental health is a sign of strength because you are willing to accept your faults and make real changes in your life. You can reach out to your general practitioner for a referral or you could use Avaana to find a counsellor near you.