Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock
Source: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

Why do people get angry? Anger is a common emotion that's important to understand. How one responds to provocation can vary from suppression to appropriate assertion to violence. In my previous post, I outlined how anger follows a fairly predictable pattern based upon one's mood, the provocation, and one's interpretation of that provocation, which is influenced by mood. If you find yourself getting carried away with anger emotions, understand the patterns that trigger it. It's possible to intervene in lots of different ways at various points in the anger experience to manage the emotions more effectively. 

Here are five different ways to manage your anger that target different points of the anger process.

1. Sleep

Manage your mood before a provocation, often called the “pre-anger state." Getting regular, healthy sleep is an important part of managing anger. Being tired makes negative experiences feel worse than they would otherwise. Plus, lack of sleep diminishes activity in the frontal lobe, which is associated with impulse control. Consequently, sleep deprivation makes it harder to control your angry impulses—and you are more likely to do something you regret when you get angry.

2. Consider Alternative Interpretations

We have little control over the things that provoke us (though I will explore ways we can exert some control upon those in a later post). We can control how we interpret those provocations, though. Consider alternative interpretations of the provocation to alleviate anger. And ask yourself what evidence you have to support your angering interpretation. 

Imagine, for example, that someone cuts you off on the highway. You can interpret that a couple of different ways:

  • It was intentional—"He saw me and did it on purpose."
  • It was unintentional—"He must not have seen me."

While both might be frustrating, the former belief (that it was intentional) will likely fuel greater anger. Try to consider other ways of looking at the situation and maybe even try to test those alternative interpretations.

3. Take Deep Breaths

Sometimes, the angering interpretation is correct, and you get angry. When you are angry, you become physiologically aroused (your heart rate is increases, your muscles tense up, etc.). Respond by taking long, slow, deep breaths, using the diaphragm rather than the just the chest. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to relax when in a tense moment.

4. Know That Catharsis Does Not Work

The “Catharsis Myth” posits that venting anger, acting with aggression, viewing aggressive content, etc., releases our anger in a way that is beneficial, healthy, and safe. Unfortunately, catharsis does not work and is counterproductive. Research on catharsis shows that it increases anger rather than decreases it. According to Bushman and colleagues (1999), it increases cardiovascular disease risk and the likelihood that you will become aggressive toward those around you, including innocent bystanders.

5. Know That It is Ok to Get Mad

Anger is viewed negatively; people talk about anger as though we should never feel it and we should certainly never act on it. But neither of those is true. There are times when it’s not only reasonable but also correct to feel angry. If you have been wronged, treated unfairly, or provoked, you should get angry. In fact, I would worry more about someone who did not feel angry in those circumstances. That said, we all know that anger can get out of hand. How you handle it is different from whether or not you feel it. It is OK to act on anger. But be polite; assertive rather than aggressive; and calm when you do.

About the Author

Ryan Martin Ph.D.

Ryan Martin, Ph.D. is an anger researcher and the Chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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