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Anger is a natural emotional response to frustrating and upsetting situations. Though everyone experiences bursts of anger from time to time, chronic frustration and extreme rage can have long-term consequences for our mental and physical well-being.
Constantly experiencing high levels of stress and anger can make you more susceptible to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and insomnia. Anger can lead to poorer mental health as well, worsening anxiety and depression. A hot temper can also damage your interpersonal relationships, making it difficult to maintain healthy and respectful connections with colleagues, supervisors, friends, and family members.
Life is full of challenging situations, and getting upset sometimes is inevitable. Could you better manage your negative emotions, though? Consider using the following techniques for evaluating and improving your responses to emotionally challenging situations.
Be a Step Ahead of Your Anger
Anger management doesn't involve avoiding feelings of anger. Rather, managing frustration involves being prepared for it.
In many cases, anger over "silly" or minor situations is masking other emotions that you may be finding difficult to express. If you never learned to express your feelings in your childhood, for instance, your temper may be masking emotions such as embarrassment, shame, vulnerability, pain, or anxiety. In stressful fight-or-flight situations, the urge to fight may be expressed through rage, for instance. If your parents were prone to yelling or fighting when they were upset, you may have learned these behaviors during your youth.
Is there a deeper emotional response hiding behind your anger? Do you struggle with compromising? Do you feel threatened by others’ differing opinions? Do you feel the need to appear tough and always in control? If so, it’s possible that your anger is a mask for uncomfortable feelings like insecurity or vulnerability. If you can identify the deeper emotions behind your frustration, you can better express your feelings and work towards meaningful resolutions.
Stop the Spiral
Take the time to step back and think about the last few times you’ve gotten really angry. What sort of situations led to you getting upset? Though experiencing stress or frustration isn’t an excuse for getting angry, identifying your irritability triggers can make it easier to avoid spiraling into feelings of anger in the future. If you realize, for instance, that your daily commute is sending you into frequent fits of road rage, consider choosing another route, or finding a means of relaxing while caught in traffic jams. If one of your partner’s bad habits is constantly getting on your nerves, sit down and discuss the issue calmly, rather than shooting passive-aggressive comments their way or slamming doors.
You might not realize how much your own thoughts are contributing to your anger, too. Negative thought patterns often cause feelings of frustration to spiral into full-fledged anger. Do you always blame others for your problems? Do you engage in black-or-white thinking when you’re upset, quickly assuming that things are “always” going wrong or will “never” get better? Do you view things through a rigid, “should”-focused mindset? Are you quick to assume that others are thinking or feeling a certain way? If you’re feeling neglected, for instance, do you quickly assume that you’ve been intentionally slighted or spitefully ignored?
All of us are guilty of falling into negative thought spirals, often more frequently than we’d like to admit. These negative thought patterns are common, but can be unlearned with practice. The first trick is identifying these thoughts when they arise. Take a deep breath and consider whether or not you’re viewing the situation fairly. Try replacing a negative thought with an alternative perspective. Maybe your boyfriend doesn’t “always” leave dirty dishes in the sink; perhaps this is only a problem when he returns home from long shifts at his job. Maybe you “could” exercise more often, but there’s no reason why you “must” make it to the gym every single morning. Maybe your love interest had to stay late at work and isn’t simply leaving your text message unread to spite you. Stepping back and looking at situations with a more tolerant and open-minded perspective will allow you to react appropriately without becoming unreasonably angry and reactive. Is this situation really worth getting upset about? If you pause to consider this question, you’ll often find that your anger isn’t helping you. If you’re feeling too upset, set the problem aside and return to it at a later date. Sometimes, time and distance is all we need to prevent stress from spiraling into rage.
Calm the Physical Body
All emotions are correlated with physical responses in the body. Many of us, however, get so caught up in our thoughts that we fail to recognize what’s going on in our bodies.
The next time you feel yourself getting angry, take a moment to do a mental scan of your body. How does anger feel to you? Many of us will experience accelerated breathing, a raised pulse, tense shoulders, and feelings of heat in the body and face. Do you find yourself pacing around or clenching your jaw? Perhaps your stomach is in knots, or your palms are clammy. Maybe your vision is funny, or you find yourself struggling to maintain mental clarity. Really feeling these sensations, and acknowledging their existence, is a good first step towards calming your physical body. Calming both your body and your mind will help you escape your anger before it reaches a boiling point.
There are three main ways we process our anger: through expression, suppression, and self-calming. If we can express our anger in an assertive, healthy manner, we can often resolve the issues that are causing our distress. If we suppress our feelings, holding in our anger, we may find that it comes out in other ways, such as physical symptoms or negative self-talk. Suppression is generally the least effective anger management technique.In many cases, asserting our feelings is best paired with self-soothing techniques. By calming your outward behavior as well as the physical symptoms you experience as a result of getting upset, you can better take control of your anger before it takes control of you.
Techniques for Calming Down
To begin managing your anger, focus on the physical sensations you are experiencing. Identify the symptoms of your rage and start taking measures to reduce them. Begin breathing slowly, inhaling fully into your abdomen. If your thoughts are racing, perform a simple physical task to return to the sensory world. Put on a favorite piece of music, sip a cool beverage, or play with your pet. Get some exercise; a brisk walk, some stretching, or yoga may help soothe your senses and calm your nervous system. Find the physical practices that work best for you. By returning to a calmer physical state, you’ll soon be able to think more clearly.
Tips for Expressing Anger Constructively
In many cases, the anger you’re experiencing may require communicating your feelings to others. It is almost never wise to speak and act while feeling angry. Instead, take a “time-out” to calm down before engaging with others. Once you’re in a mentally and physically balanced state, calmly and non-confrontationally express your needs and concerns. Strive to hurt no one’s feelings, and avoid trying to control or manipulate others. Don’t bring up problems from the past; use “I” statements and focus on identifying and presenting possible solutions. If you can’t change a certain situation, think about the ways in which you can, instead, change your response to the issue at hand. Stop holding grudges and feeling bitter. If you can, try and see things with a sense of humor. At the end of the day, many things aren’t as serious or as dire as they initially seem. By staying positive, present and calm, you can find ways to resolve conflicts without spiraling into bouts of rage.
Acknowledge Persistent Anger Problems
Some people are simply born more aggressive and irritable than others. If you find that you or a loved one are struggling with uncontrollable anger, therapy may be a valuable tool in developing better anger management techniques. Some individuals may find, for instance, that they’re suffering from intermittent explosive disorder (IED), an impulse-control disorder that often leads to temper tantrums, assaults, and the destruction of personal property. If you or someone you know frequently experiences extreme and uncontrollable “anger attacks,” it is possible that IED is the cause. In other cases, mental disorders, physical illnesses, or addictions may be leading to increased feelings of rage.
If you or someone you love is concerned by your anger issues, consider seeking out treatment. An outside perspective is often the key to identifying triggers, correcting negative thought patterns, and resolving the deeper issues leading to frustration and rage.
All of us feel angry and snap sometimes. If you’ve snapped at someone you love, have the humility to apologize for your words and actions. If you can, strive to give yourself a reality check the next time you’re feeling particularly upset. How important is this situation in the long run? Is this something really worth ruining your day over? Is the way you feel really proportional to the situation at hand? Could you, rather than getting angry, take action in a way that would change things for the better?
Though anger is a normal emotion, it isn’t usually a pleasant one! By working to manage feelings of frustration, you can spend more of your time enjoying life, and less time getting upset over things. At the end of the day, you’ll be glad that you did!
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