Healthy Ways to Manage Anger
By Jazmin Stearne
We are living in stressful times; I think everyone can agree on that. As of this writing, there are so many things going wrong in our world (i.e. social unrest, environmental disasters, the Coronavirus to name but a few). Many of us are angry. I think the anger we feel is understandable. How can we process this anger in a healthy way? Something may be upsetting you, right now. But the million-dollar question probably is, How can I deal with this anger in an effective, healthy way?
Anger is not a “bad” emotion, by any means. Anger can let us know when to react to something that causes harm. In the past, anger actually helped our ancestors survive as cavemen. Anger is not bad. However, it can lead people to do bad things if they can’t cope with it. I’ll have to admit, anger is a difficult emotion to sit with. Once it is there, it just intensifies more and more. Before we know it, our blood pressure rises, and we are ready to fight. However, it doesn’t always have to be this way. I’ve come up with four healthy ways to manage anger
Before we talk about how to process anger, we need to learn the difference between suppressed and repressed anger. Suppressed anger is closer to the surface. When your anger is suppressed, you are aware of its presence however, you have it under control to the point of not showing it. Here’s a good example of a situation where you might display suppressed anger—let’s say a police officer pulls you over for speeding. This might make you angry, but you know how to control it. You can control it to the point where you don’t go off on the police officer. Sure, you may be very angry in this situation. However, you are going to remain calm and in control while in the presence of the police officer. Repressed anger is more internalized. Repressed anger is when you aren’t aware of the hurt. On an unconscious level, the feeling (and the event that lead you to the feeling) is internalized. If an emotion is repressed, it is restrained or held inside. You are not consciously aware of the emotion, however it can return to the surface later, such as in a hypnotherapy session for example.
What factors make us susceptible to anger? According to psychiatrist Judith Orloff, “One factor is an accumulation of built up stresses. That’s why your temper can flare more easily after a frustrating day. The second is letting anger and resentments smolder. When anger becomes chronic, cortisol, the stress hormone, contributes to its slow burn. Remaining in this condition makes you edgy and quick to snap.” Dr. Orloff also says that brooding in the past (i.e. letting pent-up anger simmer inside you) is hazardous to your wellbeing and can lead to a diagnosis of a stress-related disorder, such as heart disease.
4 Tips to Cope with Anger
- When you get upset, pause, then slowly count to 10
I have tried using this strategy in my day-to-day life. When I get angry, I can feel my body rush with adrenaline. I normally don’t have that long to react. If my threat is verbal, I immediately walk away and leave the room. I have trained myself to do this. Instead of reacting to your perceived threat, close your eyes (or look away) and count to ten. Try to prevent yourself from lashing back impulsively. Wait before you start talking again. Take a few more deep breaths. Dr. Orloff recommends counting to 10 or even 50, but at least 10. As you count, Dr. Orloff recommends, “Use the lull of these moments to regroup before you decide what to do so you don’t say something you’ll regret.” I practice this technique whenever I get angry and it works about 90% of the time. I’ll admit, in the beginning, this can be very hard to do. This strategy takes practice!
- Take a time-out!
If your parents had you take “time-outs” when you were little, this next strategy is very similar. If someone upsets you, take a time-out. This actually goes with the first strategy, counting to 10. It makes sense to retreat to a calmer setting. Doing so can lower your stress level. If it is possible, reduce the external stimulation in your environment. Dim the lights, if that helps! Take as much time as you need to regroup. “To further quiet your neurotransmitters, take an extended time-out, hours or even longer.”, says Dr. Orloff.
- Don’t address your anger when it’s late in the day or night OR when you’re tired
This is another good strategy for coping with anger. Anger can rev up your system, therefore, addressing it an hour before going to bed may not be the best idea. Anger can interfere with your sleep cycle and can contribute to insomnia. According to Dr. Orloff, “The mind grinds. Better to examine your anger earlier in the day so your adrenaline can simmer down. Also being well-rested makes you less prone to reacting with irritation, allowing you to stay balanced.”
- Write down your feelings
Is something weighing on your mind? If so, I encourage you to write it down. If someone bothers you or makes you angry, try writing it down. Write it out. Simply write about how it makes you feel. If you are in therapy, a good idea would be to make a list of all the things that have bothered you or made you angry during the past week. How did you handle it? Or, How could you have handled it better? Write it down in a list, then talk about it with your therapist the next time you see him or her. Your therapist’s job is to support you and encourage you.
Anger is an intense emotion. However, it isn’t considered a “bad” emotion, after all it has helped our ancestors perceive threats and protect themselves so that they can continue to reproduce. However, there are many strategies you can use to make the anger not as intense.
~Our goal with anger is to own the moment so that this emotion doesn’t own us.
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Orloff, J., MD. (2011). Four Strategies to Cope With Anger in a Healthy Way … Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-freedom/201102/four-strategies-cope-anger-in-healthy-way
Stoler, D. (2017, November 07). Managing Anger and Letting Go of it: Achieving Inner Peace. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-resilient-brain/201711/managing-anger-and-letting-go-it-achieving-inner-peace