4 Tips for Managing Anger
Rubin Khoddam Ph.D. The Addiction Connection
If you tend to have a short fuse or have intense anger outbursts, it may feel easy to judge yourself for your reactions. But there is an important difference between feeling angry and acting on it. You can be justified in feeling angry and still be in control of how you act on the emotion.
Putting distance between the moment that your anger is triggered and your angry response can feel very difficult at times. But it is doable! Here are some tips to help you start managing your anger.
1. Recognize your warning signs
The first step is to get to know your anger. Recognize when you’ve gotten to a point where you can no longer think clearly or problem-solve. What signals to you that you’ve reached this point? You might feel your heart pounding or your face getting hot. You might start to speak louder or start to make big gestures with your hands. You might have mean thoughts about the other person or know you’re losing control but you continue to escalate. This is the moment when it’s time to step away.
If you’re having a hard time knowing what your warning signs are, pay extra close attention to your face, body, and thoughts the next time you get angry. You can also ask friends or family who have seen you angry what signs they notice. Identify what your warning signs are so you know when to interrupt the angry train before it gets off the tracks.
2. Rate your anger
Another helpful strategy to get to know your anger is to rate how angry you feel on a scale from 0 to 10 at any given moment. It might be useful to imagine a thermometer, with 0 at the bottom and 10 at the top. The more you practice noticing your warning signs when you’re angry, the more you’ll be aware of when your anger starts to climb up the thermometer. There may even be times that it shoots up from a 4 to a 9 or 10. It can be useful to be aware of these changes as they’re happening.
The rule of thumb is that if you rate yourself at a 7 or higher, it’s time for the next step—take a time out! If you are feeling angry at a 7, 8, 9, or 10, chances are that you aren’t able to think clearly, which means that you won’t be able to communicate in an effective or productive way. Time to step out, cool off, and come back when you’re much lower on the anger thermometer.
4. Pick some calming techniques that work for you
Now that you’ve walked away from the tense situation, what do you do now? During the time out, avoid purposely holding onto the anger or intensifying it. Instead of fueling the fire, you want to notice the emotion and watch it slowly drain away. This may be tough at first, but with practice, you’ll notice yourself getting better at it.
This next step usually involves some trial and error—you might need to try a few different strategies before finding what works best for you. Here are some coping skills to try out:
Close your eyes and imagine you are somewhere soothing and peaceful; maybe a tropical beach, a quiet lake, or your favorite vacation spot. Now, bring your attention to your five senses: what do you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel?
Deep breathing can be an effective way to calm our fight-or-flight response. Try some deep breathing for five minutes, focusing on your breath and body sensations. You can also try the 4-7-8 method: inhale for a count of 4, hold it for 7 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Do this at least three times.
Talking yourself through a difficult moment can be very powerful. Some examples: “I’m okay, it’s going to be okay,” “This too shall pass,” “I don’t have to act on this feeling. I can make choices about how I behave,” “Can I have empathy for myself and others right now?”
Which other phrases might be helpful to comfort and soothe yourself when you’re feeling worked up?
Do something you enjoy
Take a walk outside, listen to music, take a bath or hot shower, go for a run, watch your favorite TV show, garden, go for a drive, watch puppy videos, or look at funny memes. Pick a couple of enjoyable activities to try during your time out.
There will always be things in our day that we could get mad about—someone cutting you off on the road, or your partner making a passive-aggressive comment. It’s about how you choose to respond. Will you accept these anger invitations and respond with frustration and aggression? Or will you pass on them, allowing yourself to recognize your emotions and choose to respond differently?
Anger can feel like a difficult emotion to stop in its tracks. These tips can be a helpful start. Finding a therapist with expertise in anger management can also offer you support and guidance in putting these strategies into practice in your life.