Anger is a natural response usually following fear, either direct or indirect, or pain, either physical or psychological. What separates the people who seem calm from the people who are prone to angry outbursts is the way they express and control their anger. Learning how to control your anger can help you live a better life, improve your relationships with others, and even improve your health. The following are some of the best anger management techniques supported by current research.
What Is Anger?
You know when you feel angry, though the feeling itself can be difficult to define. When you’re angry, you may notice an escalated heart rate, tight muscles, teeth grinding, clenched fists, or feeling like you’re about to burst. Learning how to control anger can seem impossible when it takes over. However, there are anger management strategies that can help you manage these feelings.
Where Does Anger Come From?
Why do we get angry? Anger doesn’t often seem like a very constructive emotion, especially when it causes us to hurt friends, family members, colleagues or ourselves. Anger can be a response from many different stimuli. It may begin as an urge to change or stop a situation that we perceive as frightening, hurtful, unfair or unjust. For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic and you almost hit them, you may feel a surge of fear and adrenaline, as well as a feeling of being treated unfairly—you did nothing wrong, yet the other driver endangered you. All of these factors can culminate in an angry outburst.
What makes one person angry might not affect another person. Different people also feel and show anger in different ways. This is why anger management techniques and how to control anger also vary from person to person. Consider the following triggers of anger. Which affect you? Why do they make you angry? Considering your triggers and reactions will help as you read through how to cope with anger outbursts in the following sections.
- Everyday events: discourteous drivers, being overcharged, cancellations, inconveniences
- Relationships: negotiating boundaries, arguments over money, cancelled plans
- Work: rude patrons or clients, technical problems, critiques or reprimands
- Family: arguments with children or parents, rules not obeyed, negotiating chores
5 of the Best Anger Management Techniques
Anger is not necessarily a bad thing. As you consider the best anger management techniques to help you cope with your particular triggers and anger outbursts, remember that anger itself does not make you a bad or mean person. The things that you do or say determine how others feel about you, how you feel about yourself, and whether your anger is healthy or destructive.
As you consider the best anger management techniques for your situation, refer to the following example.
Your child knocks over a bag of groceries and makes a mess, right when you walked in the door after a long day. Your body and mind are tired, you already have a dozen other things to do, and all you really want to do is relax. Worse, the food is on the floor, you don’t know what you’ll make for dinner now, and your grocery money was wasted. Suddenly, you’re furious. You yell at your child, telling them dinner is “ruined,” wondering why they are “always” breaking things, wondering why they “never” listen to you when you tell them to be careful.
Later, you realize the mess isn’t that bad, most of the food is still in its packaging, and your child was just trying to help. But the damage is done; reacting in anger, you hurt your child’s feelings and now you regret it.
1. Understand Your Anger
One of the best anger management techniques actually comes before an angry outburst: recognizing your feelings and understanding your response. Understanding your anger is key to learning how to control your anger.
Understanding your anger will require an honest self-evaluation. It’s best to do this when you’re feeling calm, and you have some time to yourself. Consider the following questions. It might be best to write down these questions and answers so you have information to work from.
- How do I feel before an angry outburst? Ie; racing heartbeat, rapid breathing, shaking fists, sweating.
- Under what circumstances do I often get angry? Ie; stuck in traffic, getting home from work, leaving for work in the morning, picking up kids from school, talking with a particular coworker, arguing with your partner.
- What am I really angry at? If a minor inconvenience sets you off, ask yourself if this is the real source of your anger, or if you are hurt, frustrated or stressed about other things.
- How do I react when I’m angry? Consider the best and worst case scenario here. Ie; withdrawing, swearing, yelling, insulting, breaking things, physical violence
- How would I like to react when I’m angry? Ie; address the problem and find a solution, acknowledge my anger and then let it go, express myself and be understood
Understanding how you feel when you’re angry, the situations that make you angry, and the real source of your anger can help you control it. Knowing your reactions and how you would like to react will help you employ the best anger management techniques for your situation.
In the example situation, the parent’s anger isn’t really about the mess or their child; it’s about being tired, stressed, and feeling they are doing too much. Understanding that this situation—getting home from work after a long day—triggers anger and causes a negative response—yelling and blaming—can help the parent avoid this in the future.
2. State the Facts and Express Your Feelings
Anger can quickly lead to exaggeration. In the example at the top, the parent says the child is “always” breaking things, “never” listens, and dinner is “ruined.” These kinds of statements are not constructive, and they can actually make the situation worse. Stating and thinking that things are worse than they actually are will only intensify anger.
Instead, focus on the facts and on how you are feeling. In the above situation, the fact is that the grocery bag spilled and now some things are on the floor. Perhaps the child wasn’t careful enough this time. The parent might have to do something different for dinner or order out instead, but dinner is not “ruined.” By eliminating the exaggerating language, the parent can see the situation and the problem as it really is. This thought process can also keep them from lashing out at the child.
Taking a breath and stating the situation clearly and unemotionally is an anger management technique that takes time to develop. Learning how to cope with anger in this way won’t happen overnight, but practice will help to deescalate the situation faster.
The parent will still be frustrated at the mess and the extra stress. If the child is old enough to understand, the parent might express their frustration to them constructively, saying something like, “I’m disappointed that you knocked over the groceries, and now we have to clean it up. I don’t think you were being very careful.” Or, if the child can’t understand this yet, the parent might express their frustration to their partner, or even just say this to themselves in another room.
3. Construct a Solution
Many problems or situations that cause anger can be solved. Even if the solution isn’t perfect, constructing one will help you focus your anger into a positive action, or at least distract you from it. Feeling that you’ve solved a problem can bring a sense of relief and accomplishment. This is why, for many people, working on a solution can be one of the best anger management techniques.
Talk therapy is an effective way to examine your causes for anger, and learn how to control your anger in a way that works best for you. If you live in Michigan, consider requesting a consultation for anger management at one of our Michigan offices.
In the example at the top, the parent could begin to solve this problem by finding the easiest or fastest way to clean up the mess. They might also turn this into a teachable moment, telling the child that it’s important to take responsibility and help clean up. To prevent the problem in the future, they could make a new rule that grocery bags go on the floor and not on the table while unpacking, or that the child can only handle certain bags. This helps to restore the parent’s feeling of control over the situation, which can reduce their anger.
4. Avoid Triggers
Not all problems have solutions, but some situations can be avoided instead. When you understand the situations that consistently trigger your anger, you can work to avoid them or make them less frustrating.
In the example at the top, the parent might recognize beforehand that getting home from a stressful day at work makes them quick to anger. To mitigate this, they might take twenty or thirty minutes after work to unwind, perhaps by taking a walk, going to a yoga class, or even going with the child to the park before going grocery shopping. If they know that a lack of sleep makes the situation worse, they should make a consistent sleep schedule a top priority. A cranky coworker or boss might cause more frustration, so they might journal about this briefly to express their frustration before bringing it home. When a day is especially difficult, they might get a pizza instead, or have quick meals on hand in the freezer.
If the same situations make you angry, ask yourself how you can avoid or lessen them. Can you change your route or your routine slightly? Can you take some time for yourself to unwind? Can you shift your schedule so an unpleasant requirement takes place at a more manageable time?
Sometimes you still feel anger boiling up, even when you’ve tried other solutions. When this happens, it’s best to disengage from the situation, and address it once you’ve calmed down a bit. Keep in mind that this does not mean withdrawing from conflict all together, but simply calming down first so you can address it with a clear head.
Distraction can be one of the best anger management techniques for situations you cannot avoid, or when you feel especially furious. Though distraction won’t help you express your feelings, it will help you control your anger and avoid a reaction you’ll later regret.
Let’s return to our example. If the parent feels they are on the edge of an outburst, they should consider leaving the room for a short period. They might immediately pick up overturned containers, but leave the rest of the mess for a few minutes while they cool down. This doesn’t have to take long; they might listen to a song in the car, take a quick walk around the block, or even go to another room and breathe deeply. This anger management technique will restrain the initial outburst.
Consider some of these anger reduction techniques when you need to control your anger:
- Listen to music: If you’re stuck in traffic, turn up the radio or play a song you haven’t heard in a while. Focus just on the lyrics and the tune.
- Breathe deeply: Leave the room and take several slow, deep breaths, focusing only on your breathing.
- Journal: Write about the situation that just happened. Be careful not to use exaggerating language, but rather state what happened and how you feel about it.
- Talk to a friend: Call up a friend and tell them what happened. Emphasize that you just need to vent, or talk for a moment about something else to take your mind off things.
- Exercise: Work off your angry adrenaline with a brisk walk or run, or do some yoga to relax your muscles and slow your heart rate. Focus on the feeling of your body, and avoid violent exercises like boxing or kickboxing, which can elevate your heart rate further and worsen an angry response.
How to Control Anger: Do’s and Don’ts
Now that you have a few effective anger management strategies, it’s time to put them into action. Learning how to control your anger won’t happen overnight. You’ll need to practice these strategies consistently, and keep at it, like you would for any new skill.
- Express constructively: Shouting, blaming, breaking things and other forms of destructive expression will make angry outbursts worse. Use the above anger management techniques to cope with the initial situation. Once you’ve calmed down, express your feelings, either with a friend, family member, therapist, or even in your journal.
- Focus on a healthy lifestyle: Sleeplessness, excess caffeine, alcohol, a lack of exercise and unhealthy foods can all make it difficult to control angry outbursts. Give yourself the best tools to learn how to cope with anger by prioritizing a healthy lifestyle as well as you can.
- Work with a therapist: If angry outbursts have become a problem in your life, work with an expert. A therapist can guide you through cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness exercises, dialectal behavioral therapy, and other types of therapy that will help you manage your anger. Seeing your therapist regularly will help you stay on track and make adjustments to your strategy as needed.
- Repress: There is sometimes a fine line between expressing anger constructively and destructively. This can lead many people to repress their anger, try to pretend they aren’t angry, or go on without expressing anger at all. Instead, talk over angry feelings and situations after the immediate event.
- Talk with a friend, family member, or therapist. This way, you can avoid an angry outburst, while still expressing your anger.
- Fixate: If you replay angering situations over in your head, use exaggerating language to express your anger, or start punching pillows to express your anger, you may be actually increasing your anger. Instead, disengage in the situation and distract yourself with something more calming. When you feel more calm later, talk about the situation with a friend or therapist.
- Expect immediate results: Learning how to cope with anger and manage anger outbursts is an ongoing process. It’s a skill you’ll need to learn, not a switch that will suddenly resolve your anger. Be patient with yourself, reach out for help when you need it, and understand that you might sometimes take steps backwards. Keep at it and you’ll improve.
There are many different kinds of anger, expressed in many different ways. You might use other techniques to control your anger, but make sure that these are healthy, constructive responses. If someone gets hurt, either physically or psychologically, or conflicts devolve into “the silent treatment” or passive aggressive behavior without ever being resolved, this is not the best anger management technique for you. Try something else, and don’t be afraid to explain the situation and ask the people around you for help.
It’s normal to feel anger, and you might even have some short-term solutions for resolving your anger. If your anger feels constant, unavoidable, or damaging, consider counseling as an option to work on your anger management. If you are in Michigan, please request a consultation with Michigan Counseling Centers. We offer counseling for anger management, and our counselors are experienced in developing customized plans for patients of all ages.