Here’s how you can better manage your anger, at home and at work.
We all have those moments—or days. One thing tips us over the edge and we’re officially angry. Fuming, even. Maybe it’s unjust treatment at work or a tantrum at the dinner table. Anger is normal, but it really matters how we manage our anger. If we’re unable to appropriately manage our anger, it can wreak havoc. Relationships, opportunities and your reputation can all be damaged. Many of us never learn how to process our emotions well. The good news is, it’s not too late to learn. Here are some tips for better managing your anger.
What happens when I’m angry?
Sometimes when we experience intense emotions, it helps to understand what exactly your brain and body are doing. We all know what anger feels like. But what is happening? Well, your brain sends out chemicals called catecholamines. These chemicals are designed to warn you there is a threat on the horizon. As the chemical levels rise, your body prepares to fight. Your muscles tense, your blood pressure raises, your heart beats faster. You experience of alertness and energy. The prefrontal cortex of your brain registers all this and helps you assess. You consider the reality of your situation and the risks involved. If you’ve got good emotional processing, your prefrontal cortex will help you ‘cool off’ pretty quickly. But sometimes we need help getting ourselves back to a neutral baseline. Anger is useful. It helps us protect ourselves and the people around us. It’s just important to train your brain to handle anger well.
How do I manage my anger?
1. Know your triggers
If you’re someone who struggles to keep your temper in check, become mindful about what tends to set you off. Got a colleague that always drives you crazy? Provoked by insensitive jokes? More easily angered when you’re tired? Have a think about your personal triggers. Then work to prevent them. Sometimes all it takes is awareness.
If you go into a triggering situation aware that you’re likely to get angry, you might be better able to avoid exploding. For certain triggers, you can just avoid them altogether. For example, if your spouse or colleague wants to have a confrontational discussion and you haven’t slept well, ask to reschedule. Explain that you’d like to be able to handle the conversation well, and that you need a good sleep before that can happen. Don’t get yourself into a situation you’re going to regret.
2. Don’t rush your response
In most situations, you don’t need to respond straight away. If someone in your home or office makes you angry, make a habit of waiting a while before you address it. Feel free to tell them, ‘I’m feeling angry about this but I just need a bit of time to process that before we talk about it’. This might feel unnatural at first, but you’ll avoid pain in the long term.
During your ‘time out’ don’t just spend hours ruminating on the event which made you angry. Instead, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think about the existing relationship between you. Think about the circumstances under which the event took place. Often when we assess the broader context of a disagreement or frustrating event, we get a clearer perspective. Decide how you want to address the issue and try to pinpoint what exactly you’re angry about. Once you feel cool-headed, you’re ready to address the issue.
Something happens that really ticks you off. Your child leaves the fridge open—again. Your boss passes your work off as their own. Someone cuts you off in traffic. Frustration or rightful anger turns to rage when we generalise. We think, or say, ‘You always do this’, ‘This always happens to me’, ‘People never respect me’. When these thought patterns take over, we are no longer able to respond to the situation at hand. Instead, we’re really responding to something we think always happens. That isn’t helpful. Chances are, the person your anger is directed at isn’t responsible for every time this has happened. Perhaps your own insecurities or anxieties are playing into your perception. When you’re trying to process anger, you need to de-generalise: ‘I’m angry about this specific circumstance’. It’s okay to be angry about more general things in life, but when we’re trying to control our fury in a particular moment, getting specific can really help.
4. Think physical
Anger management is much like anxiety management, partly because the same chemicals and physical symptoms are involved. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by frustration, practice mindfulness. Ground yourself in the present moment and focus on your physical sensations. What do you feel? Take a few slow, deep breaths and count to ten. Tighten every muscle in your body and release. Repeat these mindfulness exercises a few times. If you’ve got the chance, try and get some exercise. Your body will relish the chance to use up all that angry energy.
Anger issues are a bit of a taboo, but they shouldn’t be. We all get angry. It’s normal. As a society, we’re moving toward a greater understanding and acceptance of all kinds of emotional and mental health issues. Anger management should be one of those issues.
When it comes to processing anger, we are deeply impacted by our families and experiences. Professional help, from a counsellor or psychologist, can be a great help. Don’t be afraid to reach out. What’s more, speaking to those around you about your journey can be helpful. As you develop better habits for dealing with anger, choose some people you trust and let know what you’re working on. Anger management is a skill we all need—and one we can all work on. Whether you’re at home or work, dedicate some time and effort to ensuring you don’t blow your lid.