Anger is a natural, healthy response to certain frustrating events. It is neither good nor bad. But it can become a problem when left unresolved, since it can cause issues like high blood pressure, depression and even heart attacks! When anger becomes a person’s sole means of expressing negative feelings, it may be a sign that they haven’t been taught how to properly express those emotions in alternative ways. As stated by the Australian Psychological Society, some people use anger to cover up emotions that society deems inappropriate for them to express. For centuries, it has been claimed that “showing sadness or grief is a sign of weakness”. However, clinical psychologist Isabel Clarke is convinced that anger can – and should be – controlled.
Joanna Saisan, M.S.W., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A., maintain that the general public seems to believe venting anger is beneficial. In actuality, although suppressing anger can indeed lead to problems, giving into anger and allowing yourself to express it in aggressive ways can be even worse. Recent studies have proven that both responses simply intensify anger and leave it unresolved. Jane E. Brody sums it up nicely in her New York Times article “Venting Anger May Do More Harm Than Good”, where she explains some of those studies.
The truth is “anger management” is a very misunderstood term. It is sometimes thought to be about learning to suppress your anger when, in reality, the goal of anger management is to express those feelings in more constructive ways. It’s important to understand that calming yourself down is about focusing on techniques that rationalize the event and help the individual realize there really is no reason to be angry in the first place; whereas the suppressing anger simply covers it up, leaving it to slowly swell and turn into resentment that may explode when you least expect it.
Here are some widely recommended (see sources below) methods that, if used correctly, can help you control your anger and be a calmer, happier person:
Try cognitive restructuring:
If your initial reaction is to curse or yell out the first angry thing that comes to mind, it’s a sign that you’ve allowed your thinking to become exaggerated and dramatic. By replacing these thoughts with rational ones, logic can get the better of anger and allow you to calm down faster. For example, replace “This is a disaster! Everything’s ruined!” with “This is frustrating and it’s understandable that I’m upset, but it’s not the end of the world and getting angry isn’t going to fix it”. This gives you a clear enough mind to see things in perspective and try and come up with a solution that might help. In the same way, according to the American Psychological Association, it’s much healthier to say “I would like…” or “It would be nice if…” rather than “I must…” and “It has to…” This replacement of certain words or phrases is called “cognitive restructuring” and it’s a technique that helps you consciously change the beliefs and expectations that make you prone to temper tantrums. Some words and phrases are not only inaccurate and exaggerated, but using them can make you feel like you have no control over the frustrating situation. Example phrases to avoid are:
Always (for example, ‘You always do that’)
Never (‘You never listen to me’)
Should/shouldn’t (‘You should do what I want’, or ‘You shouldn’t be on the roads’)
Must/mustn’t (‘I must be on time’, or ‘I mustn’t be late’)
Ought/oughtn’t (‘People ought to get out of my way’)
“It’s not fair”
Another way to use cognitive restructuring is to only use “I” statements during a confrontation. Any statement beginning with “you” can easily be taken as a personal attack against the person you’re talking to. Coupled with an angry tone, this can sound like you’re blaming them, even if you are not. By starting your sentences with “I” you focus on how a person or situation made you feel, and by being specific about the details of how you feel, it can also sound more like you’re making an effort to fix the problem, rather than simply lashing out.
Cognitive restructuring is my personal favorite method to tackle anger, but it’s also the one I believe to be the most challenging, being that it relies on one’s ability to curb his or her natural impulses. So, I would rate this as an advanced technique, so to speak. Try it only once you’ve already tried the simpler ones suggested below.
Use Relaxation Techniques:
One popular relaxation technique is counting to 10 (or more, if the situation demands it). The trick is to actually focus on the counting itself, and not just automatically saying the words while thinking about the situation that angered you. For this reason, it’s sometimes more effective to count backwards from a high number, because it’s harder to do that while thinking about something else. This is a form of distraction, which is a technique during which you do something that will take your mind off the anger. Playing soothing music, singing a happy song or focusing on a simple task (like housework) can also be effective forms of distraction.
Other relaxation techniques include Diaphragmatic Breathing and mindfulness meditation. The first is essentially a type of deep breathing during which you focus on expanding the abdomen rather than the chest. The second is a particular type of meditation during which you allow your thoughts to arrive and dissolve without judging them or focusing on them.
And, of course, don’t underestimate the power of yoga exercises and tranquil imagery! Non-strenuous exercises based mainly on stretching can relax the muscles and produce a natural relaxation response, and visualizing a relaxing experience has been proven to stimulate responses in the brain just as powerful as physically experiencing them. Jean Mc Aleer Klein and Cynthia Allen Hoffman from MedSurg Nursing Journal have even done a study on it. Practicing any one of these techniques regularly can condition you to use them automatically whenever you’re in a stressful situation.
Write in a journal/diary:
I know this can sound a little childish and meaningless, but according to Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience “In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.” Not only does it help you better focus on the problem and come up with a solution, but it also helps you get to know yourself better, enhance your personal growth, and even improve your health.
Anger is one of life’s inevitable realities. However, it doesn’t have to be feared, avoided or left to run amok. Managing it can, of course, be a challenge, but can yield to enormous benefits if you do so correctly. It’s high time we “bust” the overstated myth that anger is an emotion that cannot be controlled. All it takes is the willingness to learn the right techniques and the courage to apply them. Then anger will no longer hold the reigns of your life and your needs are more likely to be met. People are much more willing to accommodate pleasant and polite individuals as opposed to those who throw a tantrum when they don’t get their way.
“Control your anger.” By NHS Choices
“Controlling anger – before it controls you.” By the American Psychological Association
“Anger management: 10 tips to tame your temper.” By Mayo Clinic staff
“7 ways on how to manage anger.” By Manageyourlife
“Health – Managing your anger.” By Dr. Phil
“Managing your anger.” By Australian Psychological Society
“Managing your anger.” By Leonard Holmes
“Learn how to manage your anger.” By Carole Spiers
“How to control anger.” By wikiHow user Loni_lings.
“Tips on how to control your anger.” By hasanur rahman
“Anger Management – Tips and Techniques for Getting Anger Under Control.” By Joanna Saisan, M.S.W., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A.
“Does talking about trauma really help? – Surprising study results.” By Axinia
For Further Reading:
“10 Reasons to keep a journal.” By Ririan
“Writing Down Feelings Really Does Make Us Feel Better, Study Says.” By News Staff
“Venting Anger May Do More Harm Than Good.” By Jane E. Brody
“Relazation and Visual Imagery Techniques: Do They Work?” By Jean Mc Aleer Klein and Cynthia Allen Hoffman from MedSurg Nursing Journal
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