Anger is one of the many basic emotions that we all need to express. Feelings of anger can arise for a number of different reasons, be it disappointment, hurt or frustration. Research has shown that 30% of people have a close friend or family member that struggles with dealing with their anger, and 20% of people have ended their relationships/friendships with someone because of their anger . Although it is a completely natural emotion, facing your anger in a maladaptive way can result in communication difficulties in your interpersonal relationships, create aggressive reactionary habits or even violent outbursts . With this in mind, its important to deal with your anger in a healthy, productive way so that it doesn’t have a negative affect on you or those around you. In this post we’re going to be taking a closer look at some possible signs that you may be dealing with anger issues, ways to relieve it, as well as some long term coping mechanisms.
Why should you deal with your anger?
Feelings of anger are part of being human, and are important to possess for a number of reasons. However, problems can arise when they become unmanageable, out of your control and begin to harm others. It’s important to note that banishing anger as a whole is never a sustainable nor helpful solution, rather, learning how to manage it is the key.
When anger can be helpful
- Anger helps us to identify something may be hurting us. Anger is very often a response to hurt. You might be in a toxic relationship which spurs feelings of anger as a result of feeling hurt. Noticing these feelings can ignite a realisation of your mistreatment and prompt you to make changes to the relationship or even end it altogether.
- Anger can act as a motivator to change certain circumstances or achieve a goal. You might feel angry about your current financial situation. These feelings of anger can be used as an energiser to work harder or take a new career path.
- Anger can help us defend or keep ourselves safe in dangerous situations (activating the fight-or-flight response). You may be involved in a violent situation that sparks anger in you. These feelings can be used to fight back and defend yourself, if really necessary, or remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible.
- Anger may act as an indicator for injustice. You may be underpaid at work in comparison to your colleagues. Feelings of anger might arise that can prompt you to evaluate whether you’re experiencing a situation of injustice, and then choose to deal with it accordingly.
When anger isn’t helpful
- Anger can sometimes lead to unhelpful aggression You may be frustrated with your friend or family member, and instead of carrying out a calm discussion, you lash out aggressively. This of course will only make the situation worse.
- Avoiding feelings of anger can result in passivity or passive aggressive behaviour. Both instances are unhelpful solutions. Engaging in passive aggressive behaviour is simply an avoidance of intense feelings . For example, you may want to make a passive aggressive comment instead of directly communicating your feelings or needs about your situation at work. This however is often not an effective way to deal with your anger and may lead to outbursts later on as a result of all the accumulated and unexpressed emotion.
Signs you are dealing with anger issues
Recognising potential signs that you are dealing with anger issues is the first step to learning how to best manage them. In recognising these signs, you are able to give yourself a chance to think and react in a productive, healthy way. The earlier that these signs are noticed, the sooner you will be able to gain a sense of agency over them.
Anger can manifest in a number of different ways, and differs between individuals. 3 ways in which anger issues can present themselves include:
Anger affects different parts of your body, including your heart, brain, muscles and hormones. These can manifest as:
- An increased heart rate
- Muscle tension
- An increase in blood pressure
- A general sense of ‘burning up’ (in fact, often we talk about ‘burning’ with anger’)
Anger issues are also commonly seen through behavioural tendencies that are observable and often have external consequences. These can manifest as:
- Road rage
- Aggressive body language
Cognitive & Emotional symptoms
Anger not only has physical consequences, but also involves a great deal of cognitive and emotional negative implications. These can manifest as:
- Difficulties concentrating
- Feelings of irritability/uncontrolled thoughts
- Anxiety or depression
- Interpersonal problems (e.g., finding it hard to maintain or cultivate new relationships)
The symptoms mentioned above are just a few examples of what is often dealt with and treated in Anger Management Therapy.
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Why can’t I control my temper?
Being unable to deal with your anger in a healthy way can be due to a number of different factors. More often than not, anger issues do not arise on their own and are in fact a result of prior or current events , most certainly you’ve not chosen to have an anger issue in the first place.
For some, anger issues may be a result of situational factors such as:
- Interpersonal problems (e.g. breakups, divorce, family problems)
- Financial strain
- Grief or loss (anger is one of the normal stages of bereavement)
It may also be due to particular trauma experiences such as:
- Traumatic accidents/events
Anger is also commonly an indicator/symptom of underlying mental health conditions such as:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Substance Misuse
- Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD)
It is important to note the difference between the causes of a potential anger issue, and your triggers. Past experiences such as bullying, loss, abuse or trauma are seen as predisposing factors that made the anger issues possible in the first place, whereas triggers are experienced in the present. For example, you may have grown up in a broken household where you often felt abandoned or not important. Given this past experience, a date cancelling on you last minute may act as a trigger that ignites your anger, because you interpret the date cancellation as a sign you’re not important.
Although there are times in which anger is appropriate, in this instance it’s possible you are reacting in the present (the cancelled date), to the past (feeling not important growing up).
Dealing with your anger is therefore ideally approached in 2 ways:
- By understanding and adopting new ways of interpreting current circumstances or triggers (e.g., ‘it sucks that the date got cancelled, but it doesn’t mean I’m not important’)
- Understand the weight of the past experience and identify it as the ‘main culprit’ behind your present anger issues.
Essentially, it is our interpretation of these situations that often underlies the successful mangement of an uncontrolled temper.
Ways to relieve anger
When feelings of anger arise, it can be frightening or overwhelming. The first step in dealing with your anger in any given moment, is learning to recognise it and take a moment to evaluate the situation .
Look out for warning signs
When you feel angry, a rush of adrenaline runs through your body. You might notice these feelings before you realise the emotion itself. If you notice your breathing intensifying, your heart rate increasing or your jaw clenching for example, see these as a warning sign for a potential outburst.
Take a moment to think
Once you have noticed your bodily symptoms of anger, try your best to pause and take a moment to think. You can do this by:
- Counting to 10 before you respond
- Removing yourself from the situation to ‘cool off’
- Talking to a trusted friend or loved one
- If you’re in the middle of an argument, tell the other person “I need a few moments to clear my head”. This way you can avoid an escalation or a fight and return to the conversation calmer, more focussed and balanced.
During this time you can ask yourself questions like:
- What has triggered these feelings of anger?
- Are my past experiences contributing to this feeling?
- What is the healthiest, most helpful way to approach this situation?
By carrying out these steps, it’s likely that both your emotions and reactions will become less intense. Because knee-jerk reactions are often what characterise anger issues, taking time to pause, process and then act allows for your reactions to be well thought out and processed in a healthier way.
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Long Term Coping Strategies for Anger Management
Take a moment to breathe and think
As we mentioned in the previous section, when you begin to feel angry its important to pause for a moment and evaluate the situation at hand. During this time you can either take a walk or sit by yourself for a moment.
When calm, express your feelings
Once you have taken a moment to think and reflect, express your feelings in a calm and non-confrontational manner. You can do this by arranging a conversation in which you state your opinions clearly,directly and assertively without hurting others.
Physical exercise is a great way to release built up anger and other difficult emotions. Exercise also produces powerful endorphins that help in increasing your mood . You can do this by going on a walk/run or engaging in your favourite physical activity.
Meditation and Relaxation skills
Consider practising yoga, meditation or breathing exercises to reduce your feelings of anger. You can also listen to music or write down your feelings – both of which are great stress relievers.
Avoid drugs and alcohol
Although you may think that substances might help you cope with the situation in the moment, drugs and alcohol can have a significant effect on your ability to control your thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions . With that being said, dealing with anger is centred around regaining a sense of agency, not losing it.
Get enough sleep
Poor quality or a lack of sleep can have a significant impact on how we feel on a daily basis. By getting enough sleep you’ll be able to better regulate and cope with day-to-day situations, which will help prevent angry outbursts .
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Seeking out professional help
Dealing with anger issues can be extremely challenging and can have a significant impact on your daily functioning. If you feel as though your anger is completely out of your control, is hurting others or simply something you need help with, professional help might be the best solution.
At Therapy Central we use evidence based interventions such as Anger Management Therapy to help you explore what is contributing to your anger, identify triggers and introduce coping strategies to help you deal with your anger in the most helpful and sustainable way. Consider contacting one of our qualified anger management therapists today.
You can contact us and request a free 15 min consultation to see whether our help fits your needs.