Anger is a normal, healthy response to anything we feel may be putting us at risk. But with the pandemic, financial, employment, health and familial issues of the last two years, anger has become a perpetual emotion. And many of the ways we used in the past to decompress are no longer available, like getting together with friends, eating out, gyms, etc. As discussed in last week’s post acute episodes of anger that resolve quickly are healthy. Those that fester are not. In the heat of the moment, managing your anger can seem next to impossible. Here are 8 simple techniques that can help.
Use “I” statements
Sometimes what’s behind strong emotions isn’t just the specific situation, but that we feel out of control within it. Some things are beyond our control and we can’t control the actions of others. But, we can control how we feel and react. Using “I” statements is an effective tool while communicating with others (even outside of high-emotion moments), and can also give us a sense of control when everything else feels to be a lost cause. For example, try saying “I’m upset that I was left out of the project, when that approach was originally my idea,” instead of “You always take credit for my ideas”.
Think before you speak
We’ve all heard the adage, “count to ten” before you speak. That’s because lashing out with what’s on the tip of our tongue is rarely helpful. While the emotions behind what is said may be valid, taking a few moments to process specifically what you would like to see result from the interaction is important. Often the root of a conflict gets lost in the fringe. Then people stew on what was said which too often had nothing to do with the issues discussed. (Reworded). If you feel that you are too angry to express yourself in a constructive way, communicate that. Simply say:
“I need a few moments to sort through what I’m feeling”
“I’m need some space right now and but I’ll be ready to talk in a few minutes.”
“The situation is overwhelming me, I need to step away for a bit.”
Separating yourself from a situation until you’re ready also provides others the chance to gather their thoughts. Once the initial rush of emotions has passed, pinpoint what’s important for you to communicate. Making clear you intend to respond (you’re not just storming off) and will do so in a reasonable time frame, can help everyone to calm down and assess the best way forward.
Once you’re calm, express your anger
There’s a difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Communicating assertively means you’re clear and open about how you feel. It is respectful towards yourself and others, recognizing that everybody involved in a situation has their own feelings and needs about what has occurred, all valid. Aggressive communication tries to control others, hurtful things are often said, blame is placed on others without taking responsibility for one’s own actions, only individual needs are addressed.
Once you have calmed down, express how you feel in an assertive way- share how you feel and why you felt that way. Stick to “I” statements and don’t forget to own how you contributed to the situation. Actively listen- meaning you’re not thinking about the next thing you want to say, but process what is being said to you and address it.
It can be difficult, and it will take practice to learn to communicate more effectively, but it makes all the difference in reaching a solution that everybody can accept.
Exercise can help with the cascade of physiological changes that occur when we are feeling anger. Stress hormones surge when emotions are heightened and we go into the “fight or flight” mode for self preservation. All well and good when an animal attack is imminent but not when we’re angry at a co-worker, spouse, or friend. Exercise is a great way to release what your body is experiencing. Go for a walk, take a bike ride, do some push ups, or some other activity that gets you moving. This is also a healthier way to cope with emotions rather than stress eating, which can seriously harm your health and pack on the pounds. When emotions are high, foods that are craved are often loaded with fat, sugar, and calories due to mechanisms in how our body reacts to stress.
Identify triggers and prepare
Some situations are unavoidable, so learning how to work through them, and the resulting emotions is crucial. If certain situations come up routinely and you can’t seem to get through them without feeling angry, walk through the situation and mentally prepare for what may happen. This doesn’t mean go into the moment with anger already blazing, but rather keep in mind that a triggering moment may occur and be ready with a calming method in case it does. Does a work meeting always leave you feeling upset? Carve out five minutes afterwards for a brisk walk around the building and then go back in and work towards a solution. Kids driving you crazy just before bedtime? Give yourself a time out and separate yourself for a few minutes and then head back with a clear head.
Identify possible solutions
Not everything has a quick fix, or can be helped. But, rather than focusing on what made you mad, work on resolving the issue at hand. Does it drive you crazy when people are late to meet you? Keep a book on hand to enjoy and distract from the moment. Is laundry piling up and you feel as though you’re the only one that takes care of it? Get separate hampers and each person takes care of their own. Kid’s room always messy? Set guidelines (like food and drinks are enjoyed in the kitchen), and then close the bedroom door!
But, if it’s something that really upsets you, communicate that and work towards a solution together. After all, unaddressed anger can have serious repercussions over time.
Reframe the situation
Like we shared in a past post, it may not be about us. Try to see the situation through the other person’s perspective and consider that their reaction has nothing to do with you. Considering a different viewpoint may be all it takes to help bring down your emotions and work towards a constructive end.
It’s not always possible, but in some situations, actively changing your mindset can help you push through until the situation has resolved. This practice is called “re-framing” and it means that if you can be intentional in choosing your outlook, it can help determine your outcome. Of course, not all factors in life are under our control, but our perspective is largely our responsibility- choosing a positive outlook or approach can help boost your mood and help move you through a situation.
Having a few methods to help you relax during moments that stress you out or make your anger flare can ease the situation. Does music instantly put you in a better mood? Put on your favorite tune. Are your senses overstimulated when you’re feeling heightened emotions? Create a quiet space for yourself with a relaxing chair, soft lighting, maybe a stress ball or activity like painting or coloring to calm the mind. Use a journal to help sort through what you’re feeling. Consider what you enjoy- artistic activities, movement, solitude- and use those things to help you get through difficult situations.
We all feel angry. It’s a natural, healthy emotion that alerts us to issues requiring our attention. It’s how we respond that matters.