Anger is a normal and natural emotion; everyone gets angry at some time.
When anger is managed properly it is not a problem. In fact, it can even be useful. Anger can signal when your rights are being violated or when your needs are being ignored by others. It can also motivate you to address problems with another person or make changes in your life.
However, if anger is expressed in harmful ways, or persists over a long period of time, then it can lead to problems in many areas and negatively affect your quality of life and relationships. Prolonged or chronic anger can lead to mental health problems like depression, and physical problems like "stress" headaches and high blood pressure. Sleep disorders, digestive problems and cardiovascular problems can also result from long-term anger.
To protect yourself against these problems occurring, it is important that anger is expressed. The healthiest and most effective way to express anger is in a manner that does not cause social, mental or physical harm. The goal of managing anger is to help you find healthy ways to express your anger and resolve the problems that ignite it.
How do I know if I've got a problem with anger?
Anger is a problem when it causes difficulties in interactions with other people, work, your health and aspects of daily living. Some indications that anger is a problem are listed below (but remember there are many more).
- People close to you are concerned about your anger.
- Anger is leading to problems with personal relationships and work.
- You think you have to get angry to get what you want.
- You are using alcohol or other drugs to try to manage your anger.
- You feel (or fear) being out of control when you are angry.
- Others are frightened to upset you or disagree with you for fear you will become angry.
- You hurt others, especially those you care about, by demeaning or putting them down, cursing at them, or being verbally abusive.
- You take out your anger on someone or something else rather than the person or situation that is bothering you.
- You have physically lashed out when angry (e.g. destroyed property, hit someone, etc.).
How do I learn to control my anger?
There are a number of different ways of managing anger and some strategies will suit you better than others. It is important that you find the strategies that work best for you. Here are a few strategies that many people find helpful:
List the things that can trigger your anger
Make a list of the things that are likely to trigger your anger. If you are aware of what triggers your anger, you can either avoid those situations or develop strategies to deal with them.
Pay attention to the warning signs of anger in your body
What happens to your body when you get angry (a pounding heart, flushed face, sweating, tense jaw, gritting your teeth?). The earlier you can recognise these warning signs of anger, the more successful you will be at calming yourself down before your anger gets out of control.
Take time out
If you feel your anger getting out of control, take time out from the situation or argument. Try stepping outside the room, or going for a walk. Before you go, remember to make a time to talk about the situation later when everyone involved has calmed down. During time out, plan how you are going to stay calm when your conversation resumes.
Control your thinking
When you're angry, your thinking can get exaggerated and irrational. Try replacing these kinds of thoughts with more useful, rational ones and you should find that this has an effect on the way you feel. For example, instead of telling yourself "I can't stand it, it's awful and everything's ruined," tell yourself "It's frustrating, and it's understandable that I'm upset about it, but it's not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it."
Develop a list of things to say to yourself before, during and after situations in which you may get angry. It is more helpful if these things focus on how you are managing the situation rather than what other people should be doing.
"I'll be able to handle this. I can control my feelings."
"If I feel myself getting angry, I'll know what to do"
"Stay calm, relax, and breathe easy."
"Stay calm, I'm okay, s/he's not attacking me personally."
"I managed that well. I can do this. I'm getting better at this."
"I felt angry, but I didn't lose my cool."
A familiar strategy for managing anger is to distract your mind from the situation that is making you angry. Try counting to ten, playing soothing music, talking to a good friend, or focusing on a simple task like polishing the car, doing the dishes, folding laundry or walking the dog. Some people find going for a brisk walk or other exercise to be very helpful.
Learn assertiveness skills
Assertiveness skills can be learnt through self-help books, by attending courses or consulting with a counsellor. These skills ensure that anger is channelled and expressed in clear and respectful ways. Being assertive means being clear with others about what your needs and wants are, feeling okay about asking for them, but respecting the other person's needs and concerns as well and being prepared to negotiate. Avoid using words like "never" or "always" (for example, "You're always late!"), as these statements are usually inaccurate, make you feel as though your anger is justified, and don't leave much possibility for the problem to be solved.
Use relaxation techniques
Relaxation strategies can reduce the feelings of tension and stress in your body. Practice strategies such as taking long deep breaths and focusing on your breathing, or progressively working around your body and relaxing your muscles as you go.
Try to acknowledge what is making you angry
Acknowledge that a particular issue has made you angry by admitting it to yourself and others. Telling someone that you felt angry when they did or said something is more helpful than just acting out the anger. Also, it is more helpful to address issues when they first arise, rather than after you have been stewing over them for a considerable period of time.
Make sure you think about who you express your anger to, and take care that you aren't just dumping your anger on the people closest to you, or on people who are less powerful than you. For example, don't yell at your partner, children, or dog when you are really angry with your boss.
Rehearse anger management skills
Use your imagination to practice anger management strategies. Imagine yourself in a situation that usually sets off your anger. Imagine how you could behave in that situation without getting angry. Think about a situation where you did get angry. Replay the situation in your mind and imagine resolving the situation without anger.
TIP It can be very difficult to think of anger management strategies once your anger has escalated. Write out the strategies that work for you and refer to them when you feel your anger rising.