If you are someone who struggles with anger, you may wake up each day with the best intentions to remain calm and kind. But soon the stressors start, and you find your resolve crumbling as the familiar signs of irritability set in.
Anger manifests itself uniquely for everyone, but some common signs of a rising temper may include an elevated heart rate, tunnel vision, feeling overheated or trapped in your clothes or environment, and the desire to express your feelings in a verbal or physically forceful manner. While some individuals may have problems with their expressions of anger, many who acknowledge they have an anger problem experience shame and low self-esteem after an outburst.
If you are someone who struggles with frequently feeling angry and not knowing what to do with these feelings, please be encouraged. There is likely a deeper reason for this rage that can be addressed, as well as healthy coping skills you can practice to reduce symptoms of anger before it feels out of control. Psychologists and neuroscientists who study anger have identified this emotion as serving two primary roles.
On the one hand, this effect works as an inwardly directed signal concerning a pressure to overcome an obstacle or an aversive situation; on the other hand, anger is also an outwardly directed communicative signal establishing differentiation and conflict within interpersonal relationships and affective bonds (Williams, 2017).
As Williams states, anger can, at times, serve a healthy purpose of stirring up appropriate passion and conviction for overcoming “an aversive situation” (Williams, 2017).
There are many occasions where anger is warranted. A classic Biblical example of appropriate anger occurs in John 2 where we are told that righteous zeal for God’s house led Jesus to violently disperse those slandering God’s holiness by using the temple to take financial advantage of God’s people.
We are called to be angry but not sin (Ephesians 4:26). We should feel angry when we see cruelty and injustice in the world. This righteous anger can be part of what God uses to convict us to stand up for those in need.
However, Williams identifies the other role of anger as being primarily destructive to interpersonal relationships. This is the kind of unhealthy rage that is out of control and can lead to saying and doing things that harm others.
If you feel you are struggling with an anger problem, it is likely you are experiencing this kind of exasperation and irritation and feel unable to control it or make it go away. Chances are, you likely have never been taught about or shown healthy skills for processing anger. This can be discouraging since unprocessed anger often increases exponentially.
Imagine a tea kettle full of water and starting to whistle as the water becomes hot and pressurized. If left on the heated stove, the whistle will become a scream and continue until it is removed from the heat source. You can crack open the top for a minute and expect the pressurized screech to stop, but as soon as you replace the lid, the steam begins to rebuild.
Unless the vessel is removed from the heat source or another method of escape is created for the steam, the kettle will soon reach unbearable pressure and again emit that high-pitched scream.
While we cannot always remove ourselves from the “heat” of whatever is provoking feelings of anger, we can incorporate other methods of releasing steam that do not involve irate outbursts. It is important to remember that because every person is unique, you may find some coping skills work effectively for you while others do not. That is okay.
It is important to try different techniques to determine what works best for you. Below are included seven ideas for reducing anger that can be practiced when you feel irritability growing. Consider each one and choose a few to try throughout your day.
The first step when dealing with anger is to allow yourself some time for self-reflection. Anger is very often accompanied by other emotions. If you are frequently angry and do not know why, you may be dealing with emotions that have never been tended to. For many of us, it feels more natural or comfortable to flare up when provoked rather than face the feelings of depression, stress, hurt, anxiety, rejection, etc. that may be eating away at us.
Anger can feel more aggressive and require less vulnerability than these deep hurts. You may have been taught that strong people do not express or even acknowledge these more vulnerable emotions.
But you should recognize that we live in a difficult world, and any attempts to pretend we do not experience emotional pain will lead to deeper suffering for us and those close to us. This kind of self-reflection may be easier with the help of a trusted friend or mental health professional.
A second idea for helping with pressure release is deep breathing exercises. When our tempers begin to rise, our breathing often gets fast and shallow. When this happens, our sympathetic nervous system is engaged and prepares the body for a fight or flight response.
Deep, intentional breaths instead engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows our heart rate and allows the body to feel calm and safe. Deep breathing may sound like a basic concept, but it is a powerful tool for helping us regain control over our physical and mental responses.
By the time anger sets in, you may feel fight mode kick on and be mentally prepping for battle. While at times this may be appropriate, in our day-to-day lives this response will typically cause unhealthy conflict and hurt relationships.
A simple way to prevent this is allowing yourself a time out, an opportunity to walk away from the situation you find aggravating. This will allow you to feel through your emotional response without immediately reacting and potentially lashing out in unhelpful ways.
If it feels appropriate for the situation, you may want to ask those around you (trusted friends, coworkers, family members) to help you to walk away when you say you need a minute. This way, others understand why you need to pause the conversation and may be able to support you in this healthier option.
Another helpful coping tool is to journal or speak about the angry feelings when you are calmer. The problem with sharing feelings while emotionally dysregulated by rage is that the feelings often come out as accusatory and hurtful, rather than as an honest, vulnerable expression of your current sentiment. Give yourself the space to cool down, and when you feel ready, write, or speak about why you felt upset.
A fifth coping strategy for dealing with anger is incorporating physical movement. Movement can be a healthy release of tension as well as a natural means of processing feelings and experiences without having to have a sit-down conversation. Find something that works for you: going for a walk or jog, shooting hoops, martial arts, a bike ride. Our bodies and minds are connected and using exercise to process irritation can be exactly the outlet many of us need.
When triggered, it is natural to use phrases such as “they did this” or “you always say that” – phrases that shift the focus away from ourselves and onto the “offending” person.
Whether you are ultimately right or wrong about a situation, it is rarely helpful to speak with accusations when heated. Instead, try using “I feel” statements. This can reduce tension in the conversation as well and shift your mindset from an outward focus of blame and rage to an internal analysis of how you feel.
Finally, a change in physical temperature can be grounding when you start to feel agitated. Try running your hands under cool water, step outside for a minute, place your head in the fridge or freezer, or hold an ice cube. These actions help to bring us from a state of heated, external rage back to the moment and back into our own bodies. A temperature change is a simple technique, but it can be exactly what we need sometimes to begin the calming process.
If you are someone who struggles with anger, there is hope and help available. In addition to practicing these coping skills, it may be beneficial to consider meeting with a mental health counselor to process underlying emotions and to have professional support as you seek to change.
If you feel this would be helpful for you, feel free to reach out to Seattle Christian Counseling to set up an appointment. Struggling with anger does not make you a bad person. You deserve support and respect as you seek to become the best version of yourself possible.
Kelly, J. (2021, August 16). Global emotions survey shows record high levels of people ‘feeling stressed, sad, angry and worried’. Forbes. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2021/07/31/global-emotions-survey-shows-record-high-levels-of-people-feeling-stressed-sad-angry-and-worried/?sh=5f6c99e69638
Williams R. (2017). Anger as a Basic Emotion and Its Role in Personality Building and Pathological Growth: The Neuroscientific, Developmental and Clinical Perspectives. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1950. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01950
“Sportin’ a ‘Tude”, Courtesy of Mohamed Abdelghaffar, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Angry”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Dock”, Courtesy of S Migaj, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Lake Scene”, Courtesy of Johannes Plenio, Pexels.com, CC0 License