Anger is an emotion all of us experience in varying degrees every day of our lives. Some have learned to keep it under control, while many are prone to violent outbursts, and most of the rest fall somewhere in the middle.
Some say that letting out the steam is good in the overall scheme of things. And internalizing the emotion can eventually cause serious harm, both physically as well as mentally.
Does this mean that lashing out is the solution? How will this affect the person and those around them?
Isn’t it better to prevent rather than contain it? What are the other options in anger management?
This article takes an in-depth look at the most significant of all questions – how to keep your cool when angry?
To be angry, or not to be, that is the question
When analyzing anger management strategies, one of the first questions that pop up in the mind is whether it is better to give in to your feelings and be angry or train your mind to stay calm. There are strong advocates for both lines of argument.
Between the scenarios – getting angry but containing the outburst and adopting anger alleviation strategies – which is the best bet?
Ideally, not able to feel angry is the perfect solution. However, is that possible to practice for everyone? Maybe you need to be a Buddha or Christ to be able to remain untouched by this strong emotion. Is that so?
Can a regular person like you or me learn to deal with anger in a dignified manner? Is anger a healthy emotion?
Questions on this topic are plenty. And so are the diverse opinions about dealing with anger issues.
One thing is for sure. Anger is a healthy human emotion. It is completely normal to feel angry. There is no need to feel ashamed about it. But how to deal with the emotion is what we need to discuss. How we express this emotion is what makes the difference.
There are two ways of dealing with anger. The first method is to train your mind to treat it just like any other emotion and not allow it to get out of hand. This way, you will still feel the anger but the intensity will be less or minimal.
The second method involves finding ways to limit the outbursts despite feeling anger in full force. And this means not banging your head against the wall or screaming into the pillow!
Let us explore both prevention and containment techniques for managing anger.
Prevention is better than cure
Have you ever wondered how some people remain unaffected by external irritants? They don’t seem to get angry at all. It is as if the emotion has bypassed them. We tend to call them Buddha for their equanimous behavior.
How do they manage that? Is this behavior an inherent trait or gained through practice?
The way we deal with anger depends on our upbringing and environment. Not everything is lost if you have anger management issues. By adopting the right techniques, you can scale down the intensity of the feeling.
This is easier said than done. True. However, there is no harm in trying, whether successful or not, effective or not. Though not everyone’s cup of tea, they are worth pursuing as they are immensely rewarding.
The first step in anger management is self-acceptance of the problem.
Once you have admitted to yourself that you have an issue and you want to work towards finding a solution, it is half the battle won.
Those with anger issues tend to blame others or circumstances for losing their cool. The fault always lies with someone or some situation for your behavior. It is never your fault.
So, the next step is to stop the blame game and accept ownership of your behavior. This done, you are ready to try any one of the anger management strategies. These strategies need to be made part of your behavior.
Injustice, disrespect, abusive language, feeling threatened or powerless are some of the common triggers for anger, though it differs from person to person. Those who are prone to anger issues find themselves lashing out even for much lesser reasons like long lines, heavy traffic, sarcastic comments, or when they are just too tired.
When you are in the habit of losing your cool often and want to change that, you need to follow and catalog your anger outbursts to identify the triggers.
When you are aware of what is ticking you off, you should plan your activities to avoid them, if possible. Such as avoiding peak hours for travel, staying away from people who annoy you.
This alone may not be effective as not all triggers are avoidable or this may just delay the outburst. When combined with other tactics, identifying and avoiding triggers can help in bringing your anger under control.
Assess your anger
How do you view your anger issues? Do you consider them as good or bad traits? Do you find them helpful or harmful?
Your anger can have positive consequences in some instances. For example, if you are getting angry when you witness injustice meted out to yourself or others or when you find yourself in unhealthy situations, your anger may be beneficial.
You may be using your anger to build up the courage to take a stand, fight against injustice and make the change.
In such cases, the situations need to change rather than your anger. Abusive relationships and toxic friendships are examples.
However, if your anger is not benefiting anyone, not even yourself, and is resulting in hurt all around, it can be considered a negative trait. You may even realize the negative consequences of your action when you cool down.
Such as feeling guilty and out of control and regretting your actions and words later. If this is the situation, you need to work on your anger issues and bring them under control.
If you can recognize the warning signs and anticipate the onset of anger, you may be able to deflect undesirable episodes in time. This would be especially useful for those who calm down fast.
Some of the common warning signs are raised heartbeat, shortness of breath, flushed feeling, or clenching of teeth or fists. You may notice blurring of the surroundings or your mind racing or your thoughts becoming vague and indistinct.
The signs may differ but you may be able to identify them by keeping a close watch over yourself for some period. Recognizing the warning signs offer you a chance to avert unwanted events. Just by removing yourself from the scene or taking a deep breath, you may be able to stop yourself from doing or saying things that you might regret later.
Talk it out
If stress is aggravating your behavior, talking about it is found to be helpful. Ideally, it has to be a willing listener while you vent your anger and offer advice if necessary.
A chance to put into words your feelings can help you calm down. However, overdoing this tends to backfire. Venting your anger too frequently or doing it the wrong way may end making you angrier.
There is a misconception that “getting your anger out” can help resolve the issue. This includes throwing tantrums or breaking things when you are upset. Recent studies have shown that this worsens the issue rather than resolving it. So, it is important to use this coping mechanism with caution.
The “talk” needs to be channeled in a positive direction and aimed at finding a resolution or ways to avert outbursts or reducing your anger. Using others as a sounding board too often can end up destroying friendships. Instead, you can use them to distract yourself from the issue and talk about other topics.
Avoid pondering on the issue
After an upsetting episode, it is common to ruminate on it. Think about how unfair the whole thing was. Rehashing the episode is bound to make you angrier and hence best avoided.
Instead of replaying the scene in your mind, you should train your mind to distract itself every time the thought pops up. Changing the channel can help you calm down.
It is not always easy to stop your mind from thinking about something, especially a recent traumatic experience. This can be achieved by engaging yourself in some mundane activity. For example, cleaning or rearranging the house, working in the garden, or spending time with kids.
Engaging in these activities will keep your mind occupied and help you avoid thinking about the upsetting episode.
Channel your thoughts
Your thoughts can help you calm down or add fuel to the fire and make you angrier. Every time you start thinking along the lines “this is unfair” or “I can’t stand this anymore”, change the channel. Or else, it will end up aggravating the anger.
Instead, steer your thoughts to something like “it is going to be okay” or “I am ok”, or “stay calm”. Repeating them like a mantra can help ward off unwanted thoughts and reduce anger.
Another approach is to think about facts rather than vague theories. When you are thinking rationally, you will find yourself calming down and the anger dissipating away.
Adopt relaxation techniques
Relaxation exercises for the mind and body can reduce anger to a large extent. Breathing exercises and massages can help in alleviating stress in the body. Meditation and other mental exercises can help you stay calm.
Some people find them beneficial without any additional effort but for most, it requires mental conditioning to make them effective. With practice, you can make them your fail-safe strategy for anger management.
Identify the underlying emotion
Usually, anger is a byproduct of other negative thoughts plaguing your mind. Such as sadness, disappointment, or embarrassment. Anger acts as a shield to mask other distressing emotions. Getting angry is a way many use to avoid confronting these feelings.
When someone offers you their honest opinion which is not complimentary, you may lash out as a way to mask your embarrassment. You justify your reaction by thinking that the individual is biased and unfair and hence the criticism is unwarranted. You would be able to hide your embarrassment at being exposed by your angry outburst.
However, what does your anger achieve? This person is being honest with you but others might be thinking the same without letting you know. By acknowledging and accepting the underlying emotion and addressing it, you can avert the anger.
Angry reactions in such situations don’t accomplish anything but harm relationships.
Keep “cool down” kit handy
Have you noticed that when you are angry, certain things can help you calm down? These involve your senses of touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing such as a soft and fluffy huggable pillow, scented candles, portrait of a serene landscape, your favorite snack, or soothing music.
Keeping them handy can help you avoid getting angry to a large extent. Ensure that you have the portable ones with you all the time.
Last but not least is seeking professional help. Even after trying out methods to keep your temper under control, if you are not being successful and you feel that it is getting out of hand, you should get professional help before it destroys your life and those around you. Anger can be a byproduct of some mental health issues.
Depressive disorders can lead to many behavioral symptoms including irritability and anger. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD leads to the feeling of on the edge, keyed up, and/or irritable. Someone suffering from PTSD is easily provoked and anger felt is more intense. Angry outbursts are common symptoms of the disorder.
You may start by talking about your anger issues with your physician, describing your moods and behavior. After ruling out and/or resolving any related physical health issues, you may be referred to a mental health professional for an evaluation.
Depending on your problem and its intensity, you may have to undergo therapy sessions and/or anger management classes.
8 Ways to Calm Down When Angry
Most people with anger issues firmly believe that “letting it out” is the best solution. Angry outbursts are used as a means to get what they want. Aggressive behavior like yelling and thrashing is used to make others comply with demands.
Even as such behavior serves the purpose in the short-term, its long-term consequences are devastating. Your actions and words can cause severe and long-lasting damage to relationships. It can even lead to its premature end.
If you are using anger as a tool to get things done or make others comply, it is time you evaluate its pros and cons. You need to realize that something you gain by physically and emotionally abusing others is not going to work out in the long term.
If you have anger issues, it is high time you change your strategy and adopt healthier behavior. It may not be easy to change and the results may take time to become evident. But begin you must.
Here are some anger management strategies for you to consider.
1. Stepping away
Removing yourself from the scene might be the best option to prevent temper tantrums in some situations. Continuing the argument or even your presence can aggravate the already precarious situation.
When you feel that the conversation is getting too heated up or the atmosphere is getting too stressful, take a break or go for a walk. Taking a breather in such times can help avoid ugly scenes.
The time-out strategy can help your mind and body to cool down and start thinking rationally. The same applies to others involved in the situation.
When you are angry, there is no chance of a productive conversation. If continued, it can only end up in a disaster for all concerned.
Stepping away is not a sign of weakness or an excuse to avoid conversation. After calming down, you can continue the discussion without feeling upset or stressed. You can even decide on a later date or time to continue the conversation.
2. Take a brisk walk
Similar to the stepping away strategy, taking a brisk walk can avoid unnecessary confrontations. Instead of just removing yourself from the scene, this goes a step further and burns up the energy rush you are experiencing.
As anger builds up due to the contributing circumstances, you would often feel an uncontrolled energy rush. Anger increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and the level of energy hormones in the body like adrenaline.
This increase in the adrenal level raises the physical strength and endurance level and lowers the pain sensation. Vigorous physical activity such as a brisk walk or working out can bring them to a normal level.
Not just in the middle of a heated conversation, regular physical activity can help you keep your cool and avoid ugly confrontations. The positive effect of exercise is felt not only physically but is also found to be beneficial for mental health.
Regular exercises are useful for clearing your mind, sharpening your mental faculties, and give you a clearer perspective.
3. Deep breathing
When you are angry, as your heartbeat gets faster, you tend to take quick, shallow breaths. If allowed to continue uninterrupted, this can aggravate the situation and the anger will reach a boiling point.
To help avoid worsening the situation, you may take a break and take some deep breaths. Deep breathing means breathing through the nose, filling your belly with air fully and slowly, and exhaling taking your time.
With practice, you can increase the duration of inhalation and exhalation. Deep breathing is proved to be beneficial for lowering the heartbeat and blood pressure. This will ultimately help in calming you down.
4. Count to 10
Or 20 or 100 as you find necessary to calm yourself down. You may count up or down, though counting down is more helpful as it demands more focus from you.
This simple age-old technique is effective in any kind of confrontational situation. It works by shifting your focus to counting, thereby lowering your heartbeat and calming you down.
5. Relax your muscles
The building up of anger makes your muscles tense up, making them stiff and rigid, preventing the muscles from relaxing normally. This happens in reaction to the release of stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol. Your body gears up for a “fight or flight” response.
Your muscles would be so tensed that your shoulders would be inflexible and locked up. As a first step drop your shoulders. This can break the deadlock and prevent the worsening of the situation.
In combination with breathing exercises, muscle loosening techniques like progressive muscle relaxation can help you calm down and avert avoidable conflicts.
6. Don’t let it stew
When something or someone makes you angry, pondering on the topic will lead to aggravating the issue. If you continue to think and worry about it, it is bound to make it worse. Stewing on the subject without taking action can be fatal.
Instead, do something about it.
Find a way to resolve the issue and act upon it. The benefit is twofold. Doing anything is a distraction and helps you to calm down. On top of that, your action may bring relief to the situation.
7. Don’t lose it
If you lose your temper, you lose. Irrespective of who is right and who is wrong. When you start raising your voice, it makes you look like the bad guy. No matter what you do or say later, your angry words cannot be taken back and it will leave a permanent scar on the relationship.
When you realize that you are going to lose your temper, take a break and do something to calm yourself down. Go for a walk, take a few deep breaths, or count to 20. When you have calmed down and feel ready, continue the conversation.
8. Check your initial impulse
If you have a history of angry outbursts, your reflex response, most likely, is not a pleasant or an acceptable one. The instinctive reactions are often irrational, excessively aggressive, and damaging. When you cool down you will find yourself regretting your actions and words.
Don’t make it worse by yielding to your initial response. The trick is to learn to control your initial reaction and give yourself a chance to calm down.
Learning the art of managing anger
Stop using anger as a tool
Are you using anger as a means to accomplish something such as getting your point across or making others toe your line, or as an emotional weapon?
Your display of anger cannot accomplish anything other than intimidating others or making them angry. It is high time you stop that and find other ways of communication.
This means you getting into the other person’s mind and understanding their viewpoint on the issue and experiencing their problems. This mental roleplay exercise can offer a perspective different from yours and help you find a solution.
There are many methods to practice empathy. Visualization is one of the popular methods. Writing It down in the form of a story from the perspective of the other person or telling a friend the same are the other ways to embrace empathy.
Accept these universal truths
Though difficult to generalize, human behavior follows certain patterns, especially in stressful and confrontational situations.
- The actions and words are based on the belief that they are true and the right thing.
- Most often the intention is not bad. People are not spiteful, mean-spirited, and/or backstabbing.
- People usually hide how sensitive or insecure they feel.
- Most people are not good at judging the consequences of their actions and words.
In short, people are neither perfect nor rotten to the core; neither angels nor devils. They are just being human, struggling to live their lives the best way possible in a complex world.
Don’t shoot the messenger
Oftentimes your anger is misdirected. After a bad day at the office or getting caught in traffic, are you in the habit of venting your anger on someone unrelated? If you are adamant about throwing temper tantrums, the least you can do is to ensure that it is directed at the right person. Spare those poor souls who get caught in the crossfire.
Getting angry at the wrong person is unproductive as they can do nothing about the issue. And, you are losing a sympathetic ear with your misdirected outburst.
Don’t assume intentions
Are you in the habit of finding the intentions in the actions and words of others? When you let yourself off the hook for your misdeeds, you pounce at the chance to crucify others. Don’t you think that is a tad unfair?
Have you heard about Hanlon’s razor? It is a philosophical razor that says “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”.
Why assume malice when the actions of others can be explained by something else – stupidity, ignorance, or mistake.
Usually, it is not the actions of others that infuriates you, it is the intention behind those actions. And, these intentions are your assumptions. Don’t you think you are being biased and unjust?
It is our natural tendency to find intentions in the actions of others. However, you can train your mind to stop this wasteful exercise. With that, you can avoid many conflicts.
Do’s and Don’ts when angry
If you are prone to angry outbursts, follow these do’s and don’ts to get what you want without raising your voice or losing your cool.
- Learn to be competitive without being offensive
- Pursue your goals with passion and drive without guilt
- Continue working towards making your dreams come true without distractions
- Learn the art of direct communication without ambiguity
- Speak your mind without hiding your true feelings
- Be steadfast and determined, as it is a positive trait
- Avoid hostility and confrontation, as it is unproductive
- Don’t allow the intensity of your emotions to overpower your actions
- Don’t make hasty decisions. Give yourself and others a second chance
- Don’t burden others with your pursuit of perfection
- Don’t superimpose your ideas and opinions on others
- Don’t be bossy and order others around
Anger comes out as mild irritation to intense rage in different people. Usually relegated as a negative emotion, anger can be good if channelized in the right direction. It is anger that prompts you to stand up for the abused and downtrodden or even lead to major social movements that can change the course of society.
Anger turns negative when it is felt too frequently, too intensely, expressed in unhealthy ways, or internalized. This can take a toll on the physical, mental, and social well-being of the person and those in the close circle.
Each individual needs to find the best approach to manage anger. Anger management strategies can help you find healthy ways to express one of the most discussed emotions.