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Anger

How to Put the Brakes On and Control Your Anger

Americans are among the most stressed people in the world.

According to a 2015 study published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, around 9 percent of the adult population in the United States have both a history of impulse- and anger-control problems and it’s estimated that people feel angry approximately eight times a day.

Anger is a universal emotion. Anger is also an intimate emotion. People tend to get angry at the people that they’re closest to because they are the least likely to abandon them.

Americans are among the most stressed people in the world and more than one in five (22 percent) feel angry a lot. According to a Gallop poll taken in 2018, younger Americans between the ages of 15 and 49 are among the most stressed, worried, and angry. In another study conducted in 2017, it was noted that women’s anger was more intense than men. Thirty-seven percent of women, compared to 25 percent of men, were very angry.

An estimated two-thirds of adolescents in the U.S. have a history of anger attacks and close to 6 million meet the criteria for an IED (Intermittent Explosive Disorder) diagnosis. Chronic uncontrollable anger is common among American teens.

What’s evident is that among virtually every demographic and sector of our society, anger control issues are deeply rooted. Even if you don’t have anger issues, a loved one, family member, or friend probably does. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to target their anger at family members even going so far as “picking mild fights” to express build up anger.

How to identify anger control problems.

The first step is to try to identify whether you or a family member has an anger control issue. How do you know? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel angry often without much relief?
  • Do you feel your anger gets out of your control?
  • Does your anger impact your relationships negatively?
  • Does your anger hurt other people emotionally?
  • Does your anger cause you to say or do something that you later regret?
  • Do you become physically abusive or violent?
  • Do you struggle to compromise and become angry when flexibility is required?
  • Do you have trouble expressing emotions in a calm way? Do you find people accusing you of shouting or being afraid of your angry outbursts?

In my role as a cognitive behavioral therapist, I have utilized many of the well-researched cognitive behavior therapy treatment techniques for my clients with anger control issues that were initially developed in the 1970s. Anger control treatment using CBT can be conducted individually or in groups. Cognitive behavior therapists have found that it’s important to focus on arousal management, thinking ahead, attribution re-training, assertiveness techniques and problem-solving (Feindler, 1991). In fact, since 1979, psychologists Lee Hallberg and Hassard have been demonstrating the importance of assertiveness training in communication learning as a method to decrease aggressivity.

Six CBT techniques to help you cope with anger management.

If you’re struggling with anger control, here are some proven techniques you can try at home by yourself. Begin using them when you recognize on your own or because others have pointed out to you that you’re having a problem controlling your angry reactions. These techniques are preventative, once you become angry, your animal brain has taken over and “thinking” yourself out of the situation becomes untenable.

You can try these six techniques now:

1. Breathing exercises.

There are a couple of options you may want to consider.

  • Guided Meditation: There are tapes you can listen to where people walk you through imaginary or grounding images along with breathing exercises to calm your cortisol levels.
  • Deep Breathing: Work on exhalations longer than inhalations, slow and steady for up to five minutes.

2. Identify triggers, reactions, consequences.

This a four-step process that you can follow in the designated order below:

Triggers

Direct: Direct aversive provocations to anger can be verbal (e.g. being told what to do) or nonverbal (e.g. being kicked or pushed).

Indirect: Indirect provocations can be feeling blamed or disapproved of.

Reactions

Physiological Reaction: Muscle tension (e.g. facial, chest, stomach).

Negative Self-Statement or Intention to Harm: (e.g. “I’m an idiot” or “I’m going to hurt you”).

Consequence:

Negative Consequence: Organic, personal (e.g. citation, loss of person).

Positive Consequence: Momentary feeling of power.

Identifying triggers, reactions, and consequences can diffuse provocative encounters.

3. Refuting aggressive beliefs.

We have ways of interpreting situations in aggressive or nonaggressive ways. Consider nonaggressive interpretations of situations by depersonalizing them. This helps to control anger responses.

4. Assertiveness Techniques

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Source: Shutterstock

Here are three steps to using assertiveness techniques.

  1. Broken Record: This involves a calm monotone repetition of what you want with no escalation in voice volume.
  2. Empathic Assertion: This is a form of assertion that involves sensitive listening and mirroring what the other person is asking of you without defensiveness.
  3. Fogging: This is a technique used to short-circuit a provocation by confusing the provoker. In this technique, you pretend to agree with the provoker. For example, if the provoker comments, “You look tired,” your response would be, “Yeah, I was thinking I looked tired today.” It’s critical when using this technique not to come across sarcastic.

5. Thinking ahead.

This is a strategy where you estimate future negative consequences: If I ___ then____. By understanding potential negative events, aggressive interactions are reduced.

6. Problem-solving.

Utilize a problem-solving strategy to identify alternatives to anger in a given situation. Think about using this rubric:

  • What is the problem? (Trigger, Reaction)
  • What can I do? (Refuting Aggressive Beliefs, Assertion Techniques)
  • What will happen if? (Thinking Ahead, Consequences)
  • What will I do?
  • How did it work? (Self-Evaluation)

Depression, alcohol abuse, and other mental health issues can also cause challenges with anger control. If you suffer from any of these or have tried the techniques cited above with consistency for a period of two to three months with little to no success, please reach out to a licensed mental health professional for further assistance.

References

"American's Stress, Worry and Anger Intensified in 2018," by Julie Ray, www.newsgallup.com, 4/25/2018

"How Angry Are We? What The Polls Show," by Karlyn Bowman, www.forbes.com, 12/17/2018

"Almost 4 Million Americans Have Anger Control Problems And Are Packing A Gun," by Joshua Holland

www.thenation.com, 10/23/2017

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