July 2, 2020 By Julie Rael, LCSW, CCO Valley Behavioral Health “It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers, not excuses.” — William Arthur Ward While you likely associate anger with negative scenarios, it is actually a natural, healthy emotion. However, it can also lead to losing control. This can result in poor decision making, damaged relationships, and reduced quality of life. If you can relate, it’s important that you learn to control your anger without suppressing your emotions. It’s a fine balance, but one that can be learned, implemented, and practiced. What Is Anger? Anger is a basic human emotion, just like happiness, sadness, and disgust. Tied to basic survival, these basic emotions serve a specific purpose. For example, anger is related to our fight-or-flight response, but when expressed too easily (or frequently for prolonged periods of time), serious consequences can arise. It is important to remember that there is nothing wrong with feeling angry — however, how you cope with it, and express your anger, makes all the difference. All mammalian species showcase reactive aggression, which is essentially a response to something threatening. When you feel angry and express this emotion, it tells you that a situation is upsetting or unjust. Like any emotion, its purpose is to convey a message. The important part is expressing this message in a productive manner, and learning how to deal with anger issues if these emotions start getting aggressive. How Anger Impacts Your Life and Well-Being Unfortunately, these emotions can sometimes be explosive, leading to anger problems. The message you try to convey gets lost– resulting in emotional, social, or even physical damage. Research shows that the release of stress hormones (those associated with anger) can destroy neurons in areas of the brain related to judgment and short-term memory. It is important to remember this, and be mindful of your emotions, to prevent harming yourself or others. Other consequences of chronic anger include but are not limited to: Significant physical health threats. Including weakened immune function, heart disease and high blood pressure. Worsening mental health. Anger that flares up frequently and aggressively is exhausting. This pattern can cloud your ability to think, impact concentration levels, play an integral role in depression, and more). Sabotaging your career. Although debate, creative differences, and constructive criticism are all healthy ways to progress and grow, lashing out often at your co-workers or clients can quickly tarnish your reputation (and threaten your professional position). Threatening your relationships. Anger often impacts those closest to you, leaving lasting scars. Being explosive can make it hard for people to trust you or feel comfortable being around you. Explosiveness is particularly harmful to children. How to Deal with Anger Issues In one 2015 study, it was reported that nearly 8 percent of Americans experienced “inappropriate, intense, or poorly controlled” anger. By 2018, a Gallup report found that Americans were among the most stressed in the world. While nearly 45 percent often felt worried, nearly half of those, 22 percent, often felt angry as well. Despite this being a strong year of economic growth, negative emotions were higher than they were during the previous recession years, indicating there’s more contributing to mental well-being than the state of the world. Steps to Dealing with Anger Issues If you are striving to better manage your anger, here are some suggestions. Step one: Recognize early warning signs/triggers to better understand your anger Becoming more aware of your anger is the first step in being able to control it. As you learn and practice more effective ways of dealing with your anger, you can redirect strong negative emotions before they become uncontrollable. Since anger initiates a physical reaction in the body, you may notice some or all of the following: A more rapid heartbeat Faster breathing Sweating Knots in your stomach Trembling Tension throughout your body, especially in your jaw, fists, and shoulders Restlessness Anger management tips: If you’re prone to expressing your anger in a way that doesn’t fit the situation, recognizing these physical warning signs can help you assess the current trigger. This will allow you to take steps to manage the level of physical stress you’re experiencing. It’s important to look for patterns in your triggers. This can help you take back control over environments that are particularly stressful for you. Take this time to explore what’s really behind your anger. Perhaps your anger is masking feelings of hurt, embarrassment, or anxiety? In some cases, anger may stem from learned behaviour as a child, and in other cases, it’s a symptom of another underlying condition (i.e. chronic stress or depression). Step two: When you feel yourself getting angry, process your triggers At this point, you should have at least a vague idea of what triggers you most. There are a number of techniques you can take when faced with a trigger, including: Taking a step back — If you’re confronted with a trigger, go for a short walk if possible. This will help you better process your emotions. Count to 10 as you remove yourself from the situation and reach out to someone who is not directly involved (such as a close friend, family member or counselor). The goal here is to calm down so that you can verbally express your thoughts and feelings in a more constructive manner. Being mindful of negative thought patterns — It’s important to become aware of common thought patterns that may amplify your anger. These include, but are not limited to, overgeneralizing (i.e. you NEVER listen or you ALWAYS disrespect me), having a rigid mindset, obsessing over “musts” and “shoulds”, jumping to conclusions, blaming, etc. When you better understand these types of thought patterns and how they fuel your anger, you can learn to reframe how you view and process situations. Write it down — Once you’ve walked away, removing yourself from whatever it is that is bothering you, write down how you’re feeling. Numerous studies have found that putting your feelings into words produces therapeutic effects on the brain. Step three: Actively practice anger management techniques Different techniques are effective for different people, so it’s important to experiment to find the best option for you. Some anger management exercises that may help include: Deep breathing Mindfulness Physical exercise Positive distractions (such as building, writing, or listening to music) Related: Learning How to Control Your Anger – The Benefits of Going to Anger Management As you learn to better control your anger, you also need to make your mental and physical health your top priority. For example, a lack of sleep can exacerbate feelings of anger and depression, leaving you feeling short-tempered. Consume a healthy diet and limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol, especially if you struggle with a substance abuse disorder. Step four: Seek professional help if needed Recognizing if you need professional help is an admirable step towards a more stable and healthy future. If anger management techniques aren’t working, and you find yourself getting in trouble with the law, or harming yourself or others– it’s time to take action. While there are a number of anger management classes available, therapy is often recommended. Not only can individual and group therapy provide you with the tools you require to better manage your anger, but they will also provide you with a safe place to practice your new skills. Learn more about anger management treatment today!