Managing anger (and other tricky emotions)

Talking openly about many aspects of mental wellness and illness is - thank goodness - becoming a much more regular thing for many of us.

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You need only to take a quick scroll on social media to find an abundance of self-help tips to manage many symptoms of anxiety and depression… But what about the ‘uglier’ side of emotion, what about feelings of intense rage, anger, resentment… jealousy?

I am yet to find such a following discussing these feelings. The darker side of our emotional spectrum seems to be forgotten about when it comes to glossy Instagram posts and catchy Tik-Tok videos… because, well, it’s just not very pretty, is it?

We are taught to sit with our sadness, breathe through our panic, contact someone we trust when we feel isolated… and don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely a necessity for all of these conversations. I will never advocate against speaking out (I’d be really bad at my job if I didn’t believe in the power of talking) but why stop there?

Take anger, for example, I am positive that nearly all of us at one point or another have felt that blood-curdling, face-reddening rage that creeps from the pit of the stomach and feels almost impossible to hold in. Rarely does anyone speak about lashing out at their partners, their kids, their friends… maybe even themselves.

The actions and behaviour that follow feelings of intense anger are often not only socially unacceptable, but damaging to the self and to our relationships. Displaying our anger in its rawest form often leads to hurt. So what do we do? We either fly off the wall and end up having to make desperate apologies whilst navigating guilt and shame…or… we squash it down, knowing it will rear its head at some point anyway.

I don’t know about you, but to me, neither of those choices seem to serve our wellness or the wellness of those around us. So now what?

I am of the belief that anger is often a mask for other emotions… be it rejection, confusion, fear, feeling unsafe, hurt or betrayal. In order to really understand why we feel so angry, we need to get better at identifying the root cause.

‘Pause and cause’ is a phrase I often introduce to my clients struggling with anger. If we can take just a single moment of pause, check-in with ourselves, and identify the underlying emotion (the ‘cause’) it can provide an opportunity for us to redirect our behavioural response.

If we can successfully redirect our behavioural response, we give ourselves the invaluable gift of reflection once the moment has passed. Instead of berating ourselves for losing control and having to make fraught apologies, we have identified the ‘why’ and can therefore begin to explore it from a more level-headed perspective… which, in turn, allows us the opportunity to have more meaningful and resolution-based conversations with ourselves and our loved ones.

Finding pause can be incredibly tricky. It takes commitment and practice, we will not get it right every time, but if we can catch ourselves before exploding, we’ve won half the battle.

Tools to help find our pause and cause

Identify triggers

Make a list of everything that stirs anger, review it weekly, try and name other emotions that might be at play.

Avoidance

If some of the identified triggers are easy to avoid, then do that.

Coping

For the triggers that cannot be avoided, we can create coping plans to deal with them. For example, if we need to have a hard conversation with our partner, and we know it might make us feel angry, it is best not to approach that conversation when tired, hungry, stressed… that sort of thing.

Breathing (hear me out)

Breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold that breathe for a count of four, exhale through your mouth for a count of six. As you exhale, picture the colour of your anger (be that red, grey, black, whatever…) leaving through your mouth. Repeat as many times as necessary until the nervous system feels calmer.

Diversion

Create space by going for a short walk, making a warm drink, blasting some loud music, calling a friend, cuddling a pet. Identify short and immediate tasks that distract and divert from the immediate burning of anger in the belly.

Know the warning signs

Get to know when an explosion is imminent. Do you sweat? Does your face turn red? Do you think about the anger trigger over and over again? Maybe you clench your fists, raise your voice, feel sick or start pacing… or perhaps you shut down completely. These are all warning signs that it is a good time to find that pause and cause. Get to know yours.

If you think you might benefit from exploring your anger in more detail, or indeed struggle with anxiety, depression, or substance misuse please do get in touch to arrange a consultation.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1BJ
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Written by Sarah Stovell, Dip.Couns (BACP)
Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1BJ

Sarah Stovell Dip.Couns is an Integrated Counsellor specialising in anxiety disorders, depression and substance misuse. She works with a combination of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and client-centred therapy models. To arrange a consultation or for more information please contact sarah@solutionstherapysussex.co.uk

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