Anger is a normal human emotion we all experience from time to time - when things don't go the way we want, or people don't behave the way we think they should. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessarily wrong or bad to be angry. Rather, it’s what we choose to do with that anger that determines whether it becomes a problem in our lives.
At the SANE counselling service, we regularly encounter people who struggle with anger. I often explain to people that there are both constructive and unconstructive ways to manage anger, and that anger management is a skill that we can all develop.
Here are ten tips to start an anger management plan, and regain control.
1. Know your triggers
Recognise and make a list of situations or circumstances that make you angry (for example, running late, waiting in line). Knowing your triggers ahead of time can help you avoid them, or feel better prepared to handle them and stay in control when they arise.
2. Notice the physical warning signs
Recognise what is happening in your body when your anger starts to rise (for example, pounding heart, grinding teeth, tightness in the chest). Acknowledging those physical warning signs will give you a better opportunity to calm down and de-escalate the situation before things get out of hand.
3. Check your thinking
When charged with anger, our thoughts can be very exaggerated or irrational. To regain control try replacing unhelpful thoughts with more constructive ones. For example, rephrase negative self-talk such as ‘I can’t stand it, this is unbearable’, to something more caring and compassionate like ‘I feel frustrated, and that is understandable, but I don’t need to lose my cool, I am okay’. Write a list of more helpful thought statements, and keep them somewhere accessible (for example, in your wallet). This way, you can easily refer to them in the moment if you need to.
4. Take time out
If you are becoming angry, give yourself the space you need to cool off. Postpone the discussion and arrange a time to talk when everyone involved has calmed down. Then step out of the room, or go for a walk. As you take this time for yourself, plan how you intend to stay calm when the conversation resumes.
5. Distract yourself
There are many ways to shift your focus from the situation at hand, so consider what works best for you. You might try listening to music, talking to a friend, watching TV or exercising.
6. Use relaxation techniques
Reduce stress and tension in your body through mindfulness and relaxation techniques such as grounding, long and deep breathing, body scans or progressive muscle relaxation. You can learn more about these techniques by reading self-help books or online resources.
7. Be assertive, not aggressive – and know the difference
A common misconception is that in order to be assertive, one has to be aggressive. Being assertive means confidently communicating your needs in a clear, direct and respectful way, while being prepared to negotiate with others. On the other hand, being aggressive involves intimidating, humiliating or disregarding the needs of others in order to get your own way.
8. Rehearse anger management skills
Practice makes perfect, so dedicate some time to visualise or role-play your anger management strategies. Consider a scenario that ordinarily would make you angry and imagine resolving the situation without anger. Try rehearsing with a friend, or practice saying things in an assertive (rather than aggressive) way in front of the mirror.
9. Consider other underlying emotions
Sometimes anger is secondary to other underlying emotions. For example, anger might be a result of feeling fearful, embarrassed, or sad. Acknowledging these underlying emotions can be scary and uncomfortable at first, it can seem easier to just be angry. However, connecting honestly with our emotional experience can help us understand and resolve our anger.
10. Seek professional support
Ask your GP for a referral to see a psychologist, or phone the APS Psychologist Referral Service on 1800 333 497. Working with a psychologist can be a helpful way to understand your anger, identify potential triggers, and develop techniques to manage and express your emotions in a healthy way. The psychologist can also link you in with other helpful resources including anger management courses.