Anger is an emotion that we all feel on occasion. Life can be stressful and we’re complex beings, so it’s natural to feel ticked off or even furious about certain things. The ways we process and react to anger (which can be influenced by all sorts of factors, like childhood trauma or learned behaviours), however, may be a problem if it’s not done in a healthy way.
Anger issues can have a detrimental impact on all aspects of your life, from personal health and wellbeing to relationships and job performance.
So, if you’re finding that your anger is becoming uncontrollable, or it’s having a negative effect on your life, the following tips are for you. When you feel your anger levels rising, try these 5 techniques…
1. Pause, count and think
The type of angry behaviour we often regret is the stuff we say or do when we go with our knee-jerk reaction. In other words, we don’t think about what we’re going to do, we just let our rage take the wheel. This rarely ends well, as such actions are rooted in emotion rather than logic.
A great hack to override angry impulses is the count to 10 method. You probably don’t require much of an explanation, but here it is: when something causes your anger levels to rise, force yourself to count to 10 before responding.
This short pause gives your brain a chance to catch up with your emotions. As a result, you’ll be more aware of your surroundings and have more time to accurately interpret what is happening. You might still be angry, but the way you express it will be slightly more measured.
Over time, you can learn how to slow down your count to 10 (or repeat it if you go too fast), which will give you additional time to form a reaction that is considered and in tune with the situation.
2. Change your breathing
When managing anger, a good place to start is by targeting the physical symptoms that the emotion produces. If you can learn to control these, you can reduce the anger itself.
One of the most important symptoms to tackle is quick, shallow breathing. When your breathing becomes more rapid, the body’s stress response is triggered. This contributes to other symptoms you may experience with anger, like increased heart rate and tightening of the muscles.
On the other hand, if you begin to control your breathing, your body should start to relax. Here’s a few tips on how to achieve this:
- Inhale through the nose and exhale out of the mouth
- Breathe slowly and deeply
- As you inhale, picture the air filling up your belly
- As you exhale, think about the stress leaving your body
Do this for at least 5 cycles of breath and repeat as necessary. For more advice on breathwork, check out these 5 breathing exercises.
3. Cognitive restructuring
The idea of cognitive restructuring comes from cognitive behavioural therapy. CBT emphasises the fact that it is the way we perceive a situation, rather than the reality of a situation, that informs the way we think, feel and behave in response. The way to manage problematic behaviour, then, is to unpick the negative thought patterns that shape our perception of the world.
Consider the example incident above. While it is an annoying situation, it probably doesn't warrant that level of anger. The problem is that such events can trigger feelings that are hard for us to process, like fear and powerlessness. Our brains then link the event to other times we felt similar emotions, and a false narrative builds that is detrimental to our self-esteem.
For example, the brain might use the above incident to reinforce an existing negative thought pattern that tells us: “Nobody respects me or my time.” But is there really any evidence supporting this idea?
A way of implementing cognitive restructuring would be to replace such a thought with something more grounded in reality, like: “That was a silly thing to do, but maybe they’re dealing with some kind of emergency”.
Next time something makes you feel angry, write down what happened, along with the evidence to support your thoughts about it. This process will enable you to identify triggers and reframe unhealthy narratives. You can use our Thought Record worksheet to get started.
4. Assertive communication
Anger is often the result of poor communication. Some people don’t know how to express what’s making them angry, so they bottle it up until they reach breaking point and explode. Others may rely on anger or aggression to get a point across because they don’t know how else to communicate feelings like fear, grief or disappointment.
If you can learn how to better communicate with others, you don’t have to rely on anger as an outlet. A type of communication called assertiveness is particularly good for this. If you are assertive, it means you can get your point across clearly, calmly and confidently. As a result, mastering assertive communication can reduce conflict and improve your relationships with others.
Have an issue with someone that's bothering you? Here are 6 ways to practise assertive communication when expressing it:
- Rehearse what you want to say ahead of time
- Stick to the facts and avoid any comments based in judgement
- Start sentences with “I” rather than “you”
- Keep an open posture (no folded arms) and maintain eye contact
- Use a friendly or neutral tone and avoid raising your voice
- Be prepared to accept both positive and negative responses
This is a skill that takes time to master, so don’t beat yourself up if your attempts at assertive communication don’t achieve the outcome you expect or desire. The more you do it, the more naturally it will come to you.
5. Adopt a problem-solving mindset
Our final anger management technique is all about replacing eruptive behaviour with productive behaviour. It involves shifting your mindset to view problems as something to be solved rather than a source of frustration. The better you get at this, the less triggered you will be by new issues that arise.
Let’s say you find yourself getting annoyed every morning because the café where you buy your coffee is always extremely busy and it sometimes makes you late for work. You could spend a decent chunk of your life standing in line and being annoyed, or you could do something about it.
Why not set off 10 minutes earlier, try a different café, or even make your own coffee at home? These are 3 simple solutions that can reduce your stress levels. If you start to apply this approach to issues as and when they pop up, you’ll be amazed how easy it is to find your own fixes.
The bonus of adopting a problem-solving mindset is that it is empowering. A lot of our anger is linked to feeling out of control, powerless or like a failure. However, when you solve a problem yourself, you gain exactly the opposite: a sense of control, power and accomplishment.
Try it today!
We hope you find these 5 anger management techniques useful. For more information and advice on anger, take a look at our article on how to spot an anger problem.
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