The 10 ways of managing anger
Anger can be a healthy emotion when it helps us to feel alive and to assert ourselves after feeling aggrieved by the actions of others. It can represent the fight in the fight/flight/freeze/fawn emotional and nervous system when our very survival instincts are triggered. A potentially stressful and dangerous situation, either environmental or psychological, can have the effect of activating a cascade of stress hormones that can produce physiological changes.
When our sympathetic nervous system is activated we may have a faster heartbeat, more intense muscles and tightness in our chest, for example. This can be useful, as we may need to run or fight when faced with danger in order to survive. Anger can, therefore, represent positive energy flows as we navigate the hazards of dealing with other people in everyday life whereby we can appropriately assert ourselves and refuse to put up with poor behaviour from others.
However, anger may become unhealthy when we don’t manage to process these strong feelings effectively and fail to let go of the strong emotion when the danger has passed. The toxicity with residual anger is that we can potentially end up feeling the pain of yesterday’s wounds over and over again so that we become prickly in social situations.
We can react in a hostile manner, for instance, when we perceive a personal injury or slight caused by the actions or words of others. This is when we might be feeling tense or nervous, not feeling able to relax, are easily irritated and starting to resent other people around us. When anger becomes a real problem it may be that we experience these discomforting feelings at night just before sleep and again in the morning upon waking. Uncontrolled anger can take a massive toll on both our physical and mental health and our relationships.
Here are the top 10 most effective ways of dealing with feelings of anger, when these feelings have ceased to be useful:
1. Recognise your symptoms of anger
Be better prepared to recognise your symptoms of anger. This is necessary before you can successfully take steps to calm yourself down as quickly as possible. See this as part of an emotional stock-taking exercise. Where exactly do you feel the tension in your body as you start to feel angry?
2. Write down exactly why you are angry
Who with, what happened and how you are left feeling? This can help to provide a useful third-person perspective. What would you have liked to have said and done, but didn’t? What are the reoccurring cognitive scripts following the event?
3. Talk with people you feel safe with
Try to surround yourself with people who would be appropriate to talk with about what is causing your anger. It's important that they are impartial (not connected to the situation causing the anger), and who you trust and feel safe with.
4. Take time to pause
To respond effectively to ongoing challenges with difficult people, rather than reacting, try to give yourself some pause time to reflect on what has just happened. A useful technique is to count to 10 as well as practising some calming breathing exercises. Your nervous system is activated, your job is to try to calm it down in the first instance.
5. Maintain robust physical exercise
Part of your self-care routine should include robust physical exercise. Running, fast walking, swimming and yoga can better help with relaxation and stress reduction. These activities have been shown to also help with anxiety, depression, and negative mood as well as improving your self-esteem and cognitive function.
6. Become more assertive
Seek to boost your self-esteem, by becoming more assertive. This is, perhaps, easier said than done, admittedly, and could be the source of your anger in the first place. However, getting angry can often involve elements of people-pleasing and displaying traits of agreeableness when dealing with others.
7. Avoid holding a grudge
When we hold a grudge we are continuing to beat ourselves up as we stay hooked on the pain from yesterday’s discomforting events. Underneath anger is a hurt, a wound. Think of it like a sore on your body. Your mission is to clean that wound out, apply a dressing and allow it to heal.
8. Find healthier ways to express your anger
The key is to express your feelings in a healthy way if you’ve decided that the situation is worth getting angry about in the first place. In therapy, this can be when creative ways of working can help to shift energies such as role-play, role reversal and psycho-drama.
9. Listen to free online emotional and mental well-being audio guides
These can help with psycho-education around the ongoing management of the sympathetic nervous system. Dealing with how you get triggered and activated is an essential part of effectively transforming your angry feelings.
10. Join a group
Think about joining a group where you can share your experiences to help others. There are many peer support social opportunities which could be accessed from simple online searches. These opportunities work by accessing the power of narration (story-telling) through affiliation, reducing stigma and normalising. Hearing from others about what works with the management of anger can be a healing process.
Counselling can be a safe space to explore the cause of your angry feelings. An angry person is a hurt person. Historical wounding and past traumas may be the source of your ongoing difficulties when trying to process your difficult feelings of anger. This need not be an exercise of apportioning blame for harms suffered in the distant past but a vital part of your personal transformation.
Uncovering the source of historical emotional hurts can be a healing process that may lead to more enjoyable and empowering relationships as well as better emotional regulation. Learning to assert yourself and to positively enforce your healthy boundaries will help to prevent new wounds from occurring, and will also help to better manage historical wounds.