Anger is a basic emotion present in everyone. It exists in all of us and, while it may sound strange, its ability to harness aggression is an important evolutionary and survival function.
A distinct quality of anger is the way in which it seems to be capable of assuming a life of its own. When we are angry or frustrated, we behave and act differently to how we would if we were feeling relaxed.
Indeed, when we say that someone “loses it” or “flew off the handle” or is “out of control” we are referring to the way in which the emotion of anger has exerted so much influence that they are less capable of controlling their actions.
Anger is a legitimate and normal emotion. It’s ok to get angry at things that are upsetting. However, anger left unchecked or allowed to seethe for too long can be a highly damaging force, hurting ourselves and those around us.
So how can we ensure that feelings of anger don’t escalate to the point where we have lost control?
It’s not so much anger itself, but rather the way in which we respond to and express anger, that can cause problems. This is why understanding anger — and using anger management strategies — can make us better at responding to situations.
Anger is often associated with frustration and expectations. We might get angry when something doesn’t happen in the way we wanted it to, or something occurs that (when we boil it down to its basic elements) does not meet our expectations. The underlying cause of anger is often due to the way in someone did not respond in a way that we thought or hoped they would — we had assumed they would be respectful, do the dishes, be on time or act honestly.
An angry reaction can then occur in the form of a reaction to a ‘trigger’. We might feel embarrassed, guilty, ashamed, jealous, stressed — these feelings in turn are then expressed as anger.
As mentioned, these intense feelings are almost always tied to needs and expectations not being met. Examples of this can be material (we get angry if we discover our car was scratched or a client or employer underpays us) or emotional (we get angry if we find that we are being excluded or disrespected by our friends and families).
Understanding our anger can therefore be difficult as it may not be immediately obvious why we are experiencing these strong feelings.
Do I need help with my anger?
There are situations where anger is a reasonable and appropriate response — and there many more where it is not.
When anger starts to take control of our actions it can have an enormous effect on our mental and physical health, our family and relationships, even our careers.
The first step to preventing this from occurring is to recognise the signals — that is, anger warning signs — and become aware of how they affect us.
Physical anger warning signs often include (but are not limited to) things like:
- Muscular tightening, especially around the jaw and arms.
- A feeling of building pressure in the head.
- Sensations of heat and flushing in the face.
- Touching or rubbing your head, neck or face.
- Elevated heart rate, breathing or sweating.
- Pacing, tapping your feet or kicking.
Emotional anger warning signs often include (but are not limited to) things like:
- Suddenly going quiet.
- Raising your voice, cutting off or talking over the other person.
- Feeling like you’re ready to attack or ‘strike’ someone verbally.
- Not finding things funny, being ‘grumpy’ or easily taking offence.
- Making sarcastic, blunt or abrasive comments.
- Feeling the need to eat snack food, drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, or consume other drugs.
As you can see, anger has signals in our bodies, our emotions, our thinking and our actions. The purpose of anger management strategies is to not to supress those emotions, but reduce the ‘heat’ or intensity of those feelings.
You can’t get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that make you angry, but you can learn to recognise anger warning signs and control how you respond.
Strategies for anger management
Anger management techniques and strategies
Anger management techniques focus on recognising the warning signs that you’re getting angry. Anger management allows you to implement techniques that help diffuse the anger before it reaches ‘critical’ or escalates.
There are many different strategies that can help you manage your anger before it gets out of hand. You can find out more about these techniques in this anger management toolkit from MensLine, or you could call NQ Connect on 1300 059 625 and let a professional counsellor talk you through some of these techniques. To get the best result, it’s important to find a technique that works for you.
Some common anger management techniques include:
- Taking ‘time out’ or a break.
- Controlled breathing.
- Use calming self-statements such as “Cool it. You can handle this.”
- Learning relaxation skills.
- Changing beliefs that contribute to anger.
- Physical activity.
- Problem solving strategies.
- Writing things down or composing an unsent letter.
- Learning assertiveness skills.
- Working on your communication.
- Working on responses that help with your anger, like developing a list of things to say to yourself before, during and after situations in which you may get angry.
Know when you need help with anger
Learning to control anger is a challenge for everyone at times. Consider getting help if your anger seems out of control, causes you to do things you regret, or hurts those around you.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.