Too often, our society tells us that anger is a “bad” emotion, an unwanted and uncomfortable feeling that results in an urgent desire to eliminate it as soon as possible. Just google the word “anger” and you will see a myriad of results that show images of aggression, screaming, yelling, and behaviors resembling angry outbursts. After all, anger gets our hearts racing, palms sweating, and fists clenching and creates an irresistible urge to correct it right away.
Anger is, in fact, a healthy and productive emotion that is an adaptive response to real or perceived danger. The experience of anger varies from person to person and can range from annoyance to becoming tearful to snapping at loved ones around you to full-blown rage. It is quite a powerful armour against other vulnerable and uncomfortable emotions such as fear, pain, anxiety, guilt, shame, sadness, and contempt. More often than not, anger is helping to mask some of these unpleasant emotions and to protect us from being vulnerable to them.
Feelings of anger can arise from a range of situations, such as being stuck in traffic, arguing with a loved one, conflict with your boss or co-worker, unhealthy family dynamics, a history of traumatic experiences, and anger-specific behaviors learned from our caregivers. While channeling anger in unproductive ways such as suppressing it, lashing out, or yelling at someone can be normal, there are healthier and more productive ways to manage your anger.
Learning to identify your anger is a significant first step. Ask yourself: what does my anger look like? Does my heart start racing? Is my breathing sped up or shallow? Are my muscles tense? Do I freeze or become numb when angry? What is my anger trying to tell me? What is it trying to protect me from? Am I feeling any one of the emotions listed above? Is there a different way of interpreting the situation or circumstance? What is my worst case scenario? What are some alternative scenarios?
The following tips can be helpful to manage anger in healthy ways:
- The 3Ds: Delay, Distract, Decide. Intentionally delay your anger response for 20 to 30 minutes. Engage in a simple distracting activities such as deep breathing (see below), taking a quick walk, having a glass of water, or simply reaching out to a friend. Decide how you are going to respond to the situation in a healthier way
- Slow breathing: Pay attention to your breath and notice the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Do a quick body scan and notice any tension in your jaw, shoulders, hands, fingers, belly, legs, or toes and allow them to relax as you breathe. Count to 4 as you breathe in, pause, count to 4 as you breathe out and pause again. Continue this for a few minutes.
- Regular exercise: You don’t need to necessarily go and lift heavy weights. Simply going for a quick walk or getting your body moving can do the trick.
- Colouring books: Get in touch with your inner child! Keep an adult colouring book handy or simply draw out how you’re feeling (even if you draw stick figures!).
- Journal: Write and express your anger. How did the situation make you feel? Was there perhaps another emotion you were experiencing? Why do you think the situation/circumstance/person made you feel angry?
- Embrace your anger. Channel it into a productive conversation to express which of your needs must be met, to set healthy boundaries, or to simply acknowledge you are sorry for expressing your anger in an unhealthy or hurtful manner (we all make mistakes!).
Remember that anger is a perfectly healthy and reasonable emotion, and these tips are not meant to help you get rid of it. In fact, they will simply allow you to dial your anger down a few notches so that you can build a healthier, more productive relationship with your anger.
Thanks to our Anger Management facilitators Dhwani Joshi and Mike Weglinski for this guest blog.