We’ve all had moments when anger sparked regrettable reactions. Sometimes I buried my anger and brushed off issues until they became too much. My mind filled with exclamation points until they burst into a flare of shouting. I’ve taken my frustrations out on my frozen computer or anything that happened to become the last straw.
We all experience anger. It’s an inevitable human emotion. That’s just it. It’s an emotion
, and all the words and actions it may lead to are separate from the anger itself. All the yelling, storming off, sulking, etc. that can ride in anger’s wake are not inevitable.
At the Crisis Prevention Institute, we often say that we can’t control other people’s behavior—we can only control our own. We can choose how we react to other people’s actions and how we respond to our own emotions. Our anger doesn’t have to be a catalyst for conflicts and damage to relationships.
So how can a person work on managing anger?
Notice How Your Anger Manifests
The first step is noticing how you feel, physically and emotionally, when you begin to get mad. That increased heart rate, flushed face, or muscle tension can be as accurate as those inner exclamation points in signaling the start of anger. Then you can catch yourself before emotions turn into actions.
Tuning in to the first signs of anger gives you an opportunity to think through a response before a destructive default can set in.
Shift Your Focus
It’s about zooming out your view of the situation. Instead of ignoring the feelings, or marinating in them, ask yourself where they’re coming from and how you can best address the issue.
However, nice rational thinking like that can be a problem when you’re in the throes of angry emotions. So you might need to start with something else.
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We’ve all heard of deep breaths and counting to 10, and while it might seem cliché, breathing deeply can promote calm. I do this especially when I’m stressed and anxious, but it helps deflate the intensity of anger as well. Deep breaths send more oxygen to the brain, helping to clear your mind and view of the situation.
For example, if my anger stems from a thing, like a glitching computer, I like to distance myself from it (mentally or physically) until I’m ready to ask someone for help instead of launching a tirade against technology.
Find ways to destress. I like to deal with frustrations, anger, and sadness by finding a quiet place to pray, write, or vent with someone. Immersing myself in a hobby like photography helps too.
Try out different ways to cool down until you find what works. Then, instead of stewing in those negative feelings, examine the issue at hand. Ask yourself:
- Why am I mad?
- Why am I allowing this [person/event/circumstance] to trigger my anger?
- Could I be overreacting due to other stresses in my life, such as health or financial concerns?
Express Your Anger
I still grapple with this sometimes. I’d love to lock all my angry emotions away, like nightmares trapped in a dreamcatcher, and wait for dawn’s light to dissolve them. Sometimes it’s difficult to see, but there are plenty of ways to express anger in a positive way.
Anger is energy, and at some point that energy needs to be expelled. We can find a constructive use for it.
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We can channel that energy into finding a solution to the issue. Here are some tips:
Stay specific and brief.
Focus on the issue without dragging past conflict out of the mothballs. Economize your words to avoid launching into a lecture or giving in to that temptation to blow things out of proportion. Also, stick to the facts and not assumptions.
Don’t pass the blame.
Take responsibility for your own actions, and don’t assume you know someone else’s motivation until you hear the other side. Give the person time to explain before hurling accusations.
Give the person your full attention.
Listen empathically. Keep in mind where that person is coming from. Notice not just the words but the tone and body language that can show the feelings behind them. Also take into account what you know about that person’s Precipitating Factors, such as health issues, worries, and stress.
Have realistic and flexible expectations.
You’re both entitled to your opinions; a disagreement doesn’t need to be a rift in the relationship. Work with the other person to find a solution, and get a neutral mediator if needed. Ultimately, remember that you can’t control anyone’s behavior other than your own.