In my previous blog I talked about how anger can be a useful emotion. That it can empower us to make changes and defend ourselves. However, anger can also become an issue depending on how we react to it. This blog will focus on how to overcome problematic reactions to feeling angry. I have created three characters, Abigail, Claire and Edward to demonstrate some of the unhelpful ways that people can react to their anger and the impact this has on them:
Abigale: Someone pushed past me in the supermarket, I got really annoyed and I made a bit of a scene about it. The other person apologised and said they had not seen me, but I just felt angry and I could not let it go. Everyone in the shop was looking and I now feel embarrassed and ashamed.
Claire: I was late leaving the house as I slept through my alarm and then I could not find my car keys. Traffic to work was worse than usual due to roadworks. I arrived at the office later than planned and feeling very stressed. Just as I sat down at my desk someone came to ask me a question and I snapped at him. It wasn’t my colleague that I was really angry about, but I was stressed from this morning and I ended up taking it out on the first person who spoke to me. Now my colleague is upset with me, I feel bad about this, and also frustrated that my snappy reaction has just added to my already difficult morning.
Edward: I seem to keep reacting over the top at the slightest little thing. My girlfriend and I are constantly arguing because of it. I am really anxious about the strain this is putting on our relationship and I also feel guilty for how it upsets her. I am not sure why I am feeling so angry all of the time.
How to manage anger
There are many different ways to manage anger. Often it is a matter of trying different things until you find what works for you. Here are some suggestions that some people find helpful:
Write a journal - Writing down your feeling can help to discharge and make sense of them. Writing can also increase your self-awareness as to why you feel angry and why you react to it in the way that you do. Click here to see my blog on starting a journal;
Keep an angry diary - This is more structured than journaling. It can help you to find a pattern as to what triggers your anger. This will assist you with becoming more aware of what is going on for you in that moment, so you can then make a more calculated choice on how to respond. In your diary keep a record of what happened just before you got angry, what you felt in your body, what were your thoughts & emotions and how you would prefer to respond to such an event in the future.
Learn assertiveness skills - Communicating assertively allows you to express yourself in a clear and open way. This is a more helpful way to communicate then shouting or bottling up how you are feeling. I like the book on assertiveness called ‘Difficult Conversations’ by Ann Dickson but there are many others out there. You can also sometimes find courses on assertiveness.
Breathing exercises - Make the out breath longer than the in breath. For example, breath in for a count of five, pause for one and breath out for seven. The exact count does not really matter as it is more about making sure you exhale for longer than you inhale.This is the complete opposite of what our bodies automatically do when we are angry. By consciously changing your breathing it signals to your body that you no longer need to be angry.
Exercise - Something high intensity like running, dancing or skipping. This helps to use up the excessive energy that your body feels when angry;
Walk away to give yourself time out if you notice you are starting to feel angry. Then ask yourself:
What can you do in this moment that will help you to feel calmer?
Is how you are feeling in proportion to the event?
Are there any other feelings in addition to the anger?
What is it you are really angry about?
How can you respond to the situation in a way that is helpful to you?
Mindfulness & meditation - This can be a great way for increasing self-awareness and letting go of strong emotions;
Creative methods - This will be covered in my next blog, Part 3 on Managing anger.
Counselling - Talking with a therapist can help you to understand why you react in the way that you do, and to help you to find more constructive ways of expressing how you are feeling. Sometimes anger is a result of unresolved issues from the past and it can be masking other feelings such as fear, shame and sadness. Counselling can help you to increase your self awareness, work through issues that are causing you behavior that is not helpful, as well as assisting you to find alternative ways of expressing your anger. Click here to see more about counselling.
Putting it into practice
If there is anything on that list, or if you can think of other things that might be helpful, the next step is putting it into practice. The more we practice something the more of a habit it becomes and the easier it is to remember to do these things when they are most needed. For example, the breathing exercises. It is a good idea to practice them when you are not feeling angry. It is easy for these ideas to go out of the window when we feel intense emotions. However by practicing them they become more readily available when we need them.
Let’s revisit the characters that I introduced you to at the beginning of this blog:
Abigail: Since the incident at the supermarket I have been practicing Mindfulness and keeping an angry diary. I think increasing my self-awareness around when I get angry has been really helpful. I am able to recognise what I am feeling sooner and then able to respond differently. If the situation at the supermarket happened again I think I would be able to realise that it was just an accident. I would then have been able to accept the other person's apology instead of reacting so strongly and being left with a feeling of embarrassment.
Claire: Since that morning in the office with my colleague I have been working on how I respond to others when I feel stressed and angry. I have been practicing the breathing exercises and I find them very good for calming me down. If I were to repeat that morning again then I would hopefully be able to take a few calming breaths before entering the office. Then, rather than snap at my colleague I would be more assertive by letting them know that now was not the best time and to come back and speak to me in five minutes.
Edward: I am keeping a journal and and angry diary to understand why I react the way I do. I am slowly starting to recognise the signs when I am starting to get angry. Rather than starting an argument I now either take some time out or go for a run. I am then able to communicate in a much more helpful way. This has really improved my relationship with my girlfriend as we argue much less now. I have also started counselling to try and figure out why I am feeling angry a lot of the time. I am realising that there are a lot of unresolved issues from the past that I buried rather than ever dealt with.
It can take time to fully understand aspects of yourself such as anger, as it is often an emotion we don’t like to acknowledge in ourselves. It can also take time to change patterns of behaviour that we have learnt from a young age. So when practicing any of these things to help manage your anger, remember to be kind to yourself, it takes practice and commitment. Also remember to recognise any changes you do make, however small, as progress is still progress. You might find you make progress and have a setback, change is not a linear process, so don’t be too harsh on yourself if this is the case.
If you have found this blog helpful then keep an eye out for the next one in my series of blogs on anger management. The next one will be about working with your anger creatively.