Anger—just like all emotions—can provide us with valuable information. It can alert us to an injustice, signaling that we’ve being wronged in some way or it can warn us that we’re in danger (the “fight” part of the fight-flight-freeze response).
Anger, however, can become problematic when it is excessive and causes impairment in our lives (work, school, relationships, etc.). Some common ways that anger can interfere with our lives/the lives of those close to us include:
- Self-directed aggression (internal messages of self-criticism and self-hatred, acts of self-harm, etc.)
- Overt acts of violence and aggression (swearing, yelling, assaulting someone else, throwing things, etc.)
- Passive aggression (speaking with sarcasm, giving the “silent treatment,” showing up late or not at all, etc.)
When excessive anger is impacting our quality of life, it’s a clear sign that it’s time to learn healthier ways to manage it. The steps and tools below can help!
Step 1: Observe. For one week, you’ll act as your own personal scientist by objectively monitoring and recording each of the following details about your anger:
- Anger triggering event: Example: “Daughter borrowed the car without asking.”
- Anger level on 1-10 scale: Example: 7
- Physical sensations: Example: adrenaline rush, muscle tension
- Accompanying thoughts: Examples: “I’ve asked her before not to do this. She’s inconsiderate and selfish. Now, my day is ruined because I’ll be late to work while I wait for a ride to pick me up.”
- Behaviors: Examples: “I threw my cell phone after calling my daughter and screaming at her. I called a coworker for a ride to work and I was rude to my coworker as well.”
After you’ve observed and collected this data over a week, you'll have a lot more information about how your anger works (physical signs that indicate you’re starting to get worked up, common triggers, patterns of anger-fueling thoughts, unhelpful behaviors).
Step 2: Strategize. Now that you have a better understanding of what sparks and maintains your anger, you can begin to determine which of the following tools you’ll implement to better manage it in the future:
- Cognitive restructuring: Practicing cognitive techniques to help identify and reframe unhelpful thinking patterns.
- Mindfulness: Creating some psychological distance between the essence of who you are vs. the thoughts/feelings you are experiencing.
- Journaling: Getting it out of your head and onto paper can be cathartic.
- Exercising: Incorporating aerobic exercise to reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
- Deep breathing: Taking deep diaphragmatic breaths to trigger a relaxation response.
- Taking a time out: Walking away. If you’re in the midst of an argument, give the other person/people a time frame (“I need 10 minutes alone to regroup and then I’ll be back to discuss this further”).
- Talking to a friend: Sharing your concern with someone who’s supportive can provide a sense of validation but be careful to limit the vent sessions because too much/ too long can just fuel the anger.
If you’re having trouble managing your anger, the clinicians at Travco Behavioral Health can help. Contact us today!