Anger Management: 6 Tips to Release Your Rage
Stress can cause many people to become angry. Use these simple anger management tips to help express rage the correct way.
As we continue to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, I can’t help but notice (through social media posts and comments) that people are angry. They are angry because they are out of work, or there is a massive disruption to their routine, or because people are hoarding chicken and toilet paper and paper towels.
TIME FOR STRESS!
Many people are prone to anger in times of stress. And—this may shock you—sometimes, I get angry. I’ve got kids, and while I love them to bits, sometimes they don’t listen. A lot of people want my time, and—quite frankly—a lot of these people drive me nuts. I’m not always the epitome of zen. I am human. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by stress. And I feel overwhelmed by stress, sometimes I get angry. But like stress, anger is something that can be managed. And when you manage your anger properly, you can often deal with the issues in a productive way.
Bottling up your anger is not healthy
We’ve all done it: grumble, grit your teeth, and hold it in. You think to yourself, ‘it’s fine,’ after someone irritates you. You bottle up your feelings, and—for the moment—you don’t look or act angry. Success! You’ve prevented the anger from escaping! But this coping skill hardly ever works, because when you fight your feelings, the feelings only get stronger. Stress levels soar, as do your stress hormone levels.
Anger provides us a signal when something needs to be addressed. In a perfect world, we would take notice of that signal, and rectify the situation. However, many of us have been conditioned to conceal our emotions, which can result in long-term health consequences. When we are angry, stress hormone levels increase. And when we suppress our anger, these levels remain elevated, which makes us prone to developing a wide variety of diseases—including autoimmune conditions, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. In addition, research shows that people who suppress their emotions tend to have shorter life spans. Bottling up your emotions is not the answer.
Venting your anger is also not healthy
For a moment, let’s consider the “pressure cooker” theory of aggression: frustrations lead to anger, which builds up in a person like steam inside a pressure cooker. The person needs to vent their anger, or else they will “explode” in an aggressive rage. Lots of people subscribe to this theory. They believe that releasing the anger from your system through aggressive actions is cathartic. This explains the rationale and recent popularity of ‘rage rooms’ — places where people go to vent their anger by violently smashing stuff in a controlled environment.
However, when you act aggressively, you can actually increase the intensity of the anger. In addition, you are conditioning yourself to quickly become aggressive the next time your anxiety levels rise. It also puts your health at risk: people are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack after an angry outburst.
So the question remains: if bottling your feelings isn’t the answer, and venting your anger is not the answer… What are the best ways to control your emotions and manage your anger? Neuroscience and psychology provide us the basis for these effective and healthy anger management strategies:
Effective and Healthy Anger Management Strategies
1. Identify your triggers
One of the most important anger management tips you can follow is to identify your triggers, or the irritations that you know will set you off. Some common triggers include:
- Violation of personal space
- Being ignored
- False accusations
- Abusive language
If you know your triggers, it is possible to anticipate your anger. And if that happens, you are more likely able to choose not to get angry, and instead give a more appropriate response. You are more in control of the situation than if you simply explode.
2. Take a cool-down period
It helps to take a timeout before talking to someone who made you angry. The break will allow for the effects of the adrenaline rush to wear off, giving you a chance to clearly reflect on what’s really bothering you. In addition, you may feel better prepared to handle your anger by taking short breaks during the day. Give yourself a chance to calm down.
3. Once you’re calm, talk about it
As soon as you’re thinking clearly, express your anger in an assertive, nonconfrontational way. State your concerns clearly and directly, without hurting anyone or trying to control others. A 2007 study conducted at UCLA shows that affect labeling—the process of naming your feelings—can calm the activity in the part of the brain that triggers the release of stress hormones. It’s helpful to express your feelings, because if you don’t like what’s happening, it’s an opportunity for positive change.
4. Use humor to release tension
Humor is empowering; laughing at something gives you power over it, instead of it having power over you. For example, one of my most annoying MS symptoms is that I forget words—even simple words—during times of fatigue. But instead of getting angry about it, I find humor in it. Many times I will find myself asking someone to hand me the ‘thingy-doo’ or go and get the ‘whatzit.’ And we laugh, sometimes because I expect the person to know what I am talking about, and sometimes because the person actually knows what I am talking about. By finding the humor in the situation, I take some of the power back that the disease has taken from me.
5. Reappraise the situation
What about situations where people get angry at you, and you react by getting angry?
Events don’t make you frustrated, your beliefs do. And when you change your beliefs about a situation, you change the emotions you feel. Research suggests an effective strategy for dealing with someone who is angry with and yelling at you is to reappraise the situation. Instead of engaging in a confrontational battle, tell yourself that the angry person is having a bad day, and is taking it out on you. If you shift the appraisal, you shift your emotional response.
6. Practice relaxation skills
When you start to lose your temper, put your relaxation skills to work. Practice deep-breathing exercises, guided meditations, or repeat a calming word or phrase, such as “ease.” You can also listen to music, write in a journal, paint a picture, or exercise. Do whatever it takes to encourage relaxation.