Despite the fact that anger can be destructive, it can also be a useful and a healthy emotion when expressed appropriately. Anger is a signal that you have a need that hasn’t been met. Anger has been used in healthy ways to motivate people to change themselves and the world. Without lashing out and hurting others, anger can be a central piece in motivating people to make life-changing decisions for themselves and others. One example is the feeling that comes from experiencing social injustice. When a particular group or class of people is being treated poorly based on things such as their race or socioeconomic status, it is useful for anger to motivate a response to the injustice. This doesn’t mean saying hurtful things or physically harming others. Rather, it means speaking up for what is true and right and pushing for change. This motivation and action accompanied with an audience that is ready to listen and respond provides a space to be understood and cared for by others.
Since anger itself isn’t a bad emotion and instead can be a useful signal for us, what is next? Knowing that anger can be destructive on one hand and useful on the other only gets us so far. Getting control over the anger throttle, for those of us who struggle with its overwhelming forces at times, is the next step in harnessing its usefulness. Here are some useful tips for dealing with anger’s strong and powerful grip:
Be On Guard. Be on alert for anger’s warning signs. This comes from understanding what your body’s usual response is to anger. Pay attention to whether or not you feel that burning sensation in your chest, ball in your throat, or the tensing of your arms or hands. If you are attempting to be alert regarding when anger is about to show up, it gives you the advantage to prepare and respond appropriately.
STOP! Once you realize it is coming or is already here, stop! If you are in a heated argument with your significant other, then table the discussion if you can or walk away and take a minute to return. This is especially important early on when you are trying to gain control of your anger. Continuing to fight or argue has the potential to leave you spinning your wheels without gaining any traction. The more you leave your wheels spinning, the more your tread wears down leaving you unable to move forward.
Breathe. This is one of the most important steps. In order to put the brakes on your anger you need to breathe. If you do not activate your parasympathetic nervous system, by breathing, it is like trying to fight a war with a Swiss Army Knife. Pulling out those small scissors won’t get you very far here. There are several different structures for parasympathetic breathing, but one that I have found to work is to start inhaling and begin to count to 4 slowly. Once you get to 4, start to exhale and begin to count to 4 again. After you finish, start the process over again until you begin to notice your body relax and your anger level significantly drop.
Respond. Now that you have executed steps 1 through 3 you are ready to respond to whatever made you angry. You should now have the ability to think clearly and respond with a better and more thoughtful response. The boss who was angry at his employees doesn’t need to yell every time now. Instead, he can pitch to his employees what he expects of them without losing it and why he has such expectations. Now if he decides to correct his employees or even let them go, it is from a place of clarity and understanding instead of from a place of unbridled rage in the heat of the moment. Things would be similar for the now calm spouse. When their significant other doesn’t do something they ask, they now don’t have to jump to the conclusion that it is because they don’t care or think that their needs are unimportant.
Seek Help. If you find yourself stuck and unable to move forward from constant irritation or anger, seek professional help. Therapists go through extensive training in understanding and treating issues such as anger. One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is the gift of counseling from someone who understands and is able to help.
These tips are a few ways to manage and control anger. Anger can be a cumbersome problem, but there is hope to overcome its sometimes powerful grip. If you find yourself continuing to be stuck even after going through these tips, reaching out and getting professional help is something you can do for yourself and those around you. It may seem far out of reach, but there is hope.