Controlling Anger – Before It Controls You
We all know what anger is, and we’ve all felt it: whether as a fleeting irritation or as a full-fledged rage. Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems: problems at work, in your personal relationships and in the overall quality of your life.
The Nature of Anger
Like other emotions anger is accompanied by physical changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as does the level of your energy hormones, adrenalin and noradrenalin. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can trigger angry feelings.
People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming.
Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive –not aggressive — manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.
Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. Our aim is to suppress our anger and convert it into more constructive behaviour. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward — on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure or depression.
Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behaviour (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People with this type of anger aren’t likely to have many successful relationships.
Finally, you can calm yourself down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behaviour but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down and let the feelings subside.
Strategies you can use to Keep Anger at Bay
The goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can’t get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.
Simple relaxation tools such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery can help calm down angry feelings.
Simply put, this means changing the way you think. Angry people tend to curse, swear or speak in highly colourful terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When you’re angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones.
Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. The best attitude to bring such a situation, then, is not to focus on finding the solution but rather on how you handle and face the problem. Make a plan, and check your progress along the way.
Angry people tend to jump to –and act on– conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be pretty wild. The first thing to do, if you are in a heated discussion, is to slow down and think through your responses. Don’t say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say.
‘Silly humour’ can help defuse rage in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective. Do this whenever a name comes into your head about another person. If you can, draw a picture of what the actual thing might look like. This will take a lot of the edge off your fury; and humour can always be relied on to help un-knot a tense situation.
Changing Your Environment
Give yourself a break. Make sure you have some ‘personal time’ scheduled for times of the day that you know are particularly stressful. One example is the working mother who has a standing rule that when she comes home from work, for the first fifteen this brief quiet time, she feels better prepared to handle demands from her kids without blowing up at them.
Do You Need Counselling?
If you feel that your anger is really out of control, if it is having an impact on your relationships and on important parts of your life, you might consider counselling to learn how to handle it better. At Barrenjoey our psychologists can work with you in developing a range of techniques for changing your thinking and your behaviours.
If you are in crises or require urgent care please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or call 000 for an ambulance.