Managing Anger

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Anger can be one of the most difficult emotions. We're taught to never be angry. Being angry supposedly means you're being mean, out of control, domineering. It can feel almost like a forbidden emotion - sad? Not ideal, but it's okay. Anger? You're a monster!

For anyone who has struggled with anger, it might feel like this problem is nearly insurmountable, but you can get better at managing your anger. Try the following tips:

    Step #1: Catch it Early

    This is my #1 anger tip. If you catch angry feelings early, you have a MUCH better chance of managing them. Don't let them get to that red hot, pot boiling over place because then you've already lost the game! 

    • Keep an eye out for angry-making situations - what situations are you likely to get mad in? When you get criticized? When something goes wrong? When you're dismissed? Knowing what things are likely to set you off helps you know when to really watch out for your emotions and then you'll be able to intervene earlier.
    • Know anger's emotional cousins - frustration, annoyance, irritation, bitterness, resentment can all be easy precursors to full on anger. Sometimes seemingly unrelated emotions can trigger anger as well: fear, jealousy, embarrassment, feeling abandoned, hurt, sadness, betrayal. Watch for these emotions and you might find common ones that lead to anger. Knowing your triggers helps you cope and prevent things from getting worse.  
    • Minimize anger-inducing thoughts - Know your triggers, know your anger's emotional cousins, then know what thoughts you have that pour gasoline on the fire. "That isn't fair." "They shouldn't do that." "It shouldn't be like this." "They should be doing this instead." Sure, ideally they wouldn't be taking up the whole aisle, but they are and saying things like that to yourself just makes your blood boil over. Instead of thoughts of displeasure about what IS, focus your thoughts on ACCEPTING what is: "that person is driving slowly. That happens." "They are taking up a lot of space. Sometimes people do that." Keep it factual and simple so you're not riling yourself up. People and life doesn't always do what we want, accepting that leads to less distress and anger, especially about things we can't control.  

    Step #2: Take a Breather

    If managing anger is ever a problem for you, you can't assume you'll be able to stay in control when your anger hits an 8, 9, or 10. Your #1 job in managing anger is to prevent it from happening. Keep it low at a mild rumble, not a catastrophic disaster.

    • Step away before your anger hits an 8 - take a break and walk away so you can cool off when you're at a 5 or 6. If your anger moves really quickly or if you're in a situation that is likely to trigger your anger, you might even want to take a break at a 4.
    • Communicate your needs - if you're talking to someone or in a social setting, let people know that you need a minute. You can tell them that you're getting angry or frustrated and you need a minute to cool down or you can just say you need a moment. If you are in a professional setting, taking a bathroom break to take a few deep breaths can be a great option too.

    Step #3: Notice Your Needs

    Once you're in a space where you've cooled off a bit and you feel like that immediate threat of losing your cool has passed, focus on what your needs are. Anger is often a part of the fight or flight response, it can be our brain's very primitive attempt to keep us safe. Instead of letting your animal part of your brain be in the driver's seat, use your adult, problem solving brain to look critically and problem solve.

    • What needs do you have? When you take time to think through the current situation or whatever left you feeling angry, what thoughts and feelings (besides anger) did you notice? Did you feel unsafe? Dismissed? Helpless? Stupid? Belittled? 
    • How can you appropriately get these needs met? Now that you know what you feel, how can you soothe and comfort these emotions? Maybe you need to ask the person who made you feel angry about what you need or how they affected you. Maybe you were feeling angry and stupid for bombing a class, so you can take some times to rationally and adaptively talk to yourself about how a poor grade does not mean you are a terrible person or dumb. Self-soothe with choosing adaptive thoughts, self-care, and communicating appropriately with others.

    When it isn't Getting Better

    Sometimes our anger gets out of hand and we need professional help. If you have trouble with any of the following, it is time to see professional help with your anger:

    • If you ever physically harm other people.
    • If you are verbally or emotionally abusive to others (name-calling, screaming, yelling).
    • If you regularly break things or destroy property.
    • If you have had trouble at work, school, or legal trouble related to your anger.

    Even if anger has been a lot of trouble for you in the past, it can get better. Find a mental health professional who specializes in working with people with anger difficulties. They will provide you with many tools and strategies personally catered to your own strengths, challenges, and needs.

    The Bottom Line

    Anger can be one of those emotions that takes you for a rough ride and leaves a hot mess behind. Fortunately, we can learn to compassionately manage our emotions to not only manage our anger and our behavior, but to get our needs met and have a greater sense of satisfaction in life as well! 

    Knowing what makes us angry, interveineing early, and finding healthy ways of getting our needs met can make a huge difference in managing anger!