Moving Beyond Anger

Learn to use your anger to fix problems, not aggravate them further.

Posted Dec 17, 2018

bark/flickr
Source: bark/flickr

Anger can often overtake people. Without making a conscious decision of how to react, you may find that you argue, insult, undermine, or even use physical force to express this most urgent feeling. While you might be fully engaged in this for the moment, unchecked anger is often counter-productive, or even outright destructive. To move toward positive goals that you want to achieve, it is important to respond to your anger more effectively by keeping it in check, de-escalating it, or – if you need to – altogether avoiding certain situations that anger you.

Given the power that anger can often have over people, the question becomes how to cope with your anger. Here are some basic strategies you can use:

Assess the level of your anger: Anger is experienced along a range, from mild to intense. The less intense it is, the more easily you can direct it. So, practice rating your anger on a scale from 1 to 10. The lower the rating of your anger is when you begin to address it, the more easily you can respond in constructive ways, and the more effective your responses will probably be.

Take a timeout: If your level of anger is high (say, an 8), you might benefit from walking away from the situation. Focus on your breathing (see section below on this) or just distract. When your anger lowers to a level where you are more capable of reasonable interactions, return to the situation or person to work through the problem.

Breathe: People often find that consciously attending to their breathing can help to reduce their anger. It both interrupts the angry onslaught of thoughts and physiologically calms the body. Try slowly breathing in through your nose, and then allowing your breath to “leak out” through your mouth. You want your exhale to be twice as long as your inhale – so you might try breathing in for a count of 5 and exhaling for a count of 10.

Practice Patience: Choose to let go of trying to make something happen, and remind yourself to be patient. Be open to understanding the problem before you from an outside perspective. If you are angry with a person, this means seeing the situation through that person’s eyes. If you are angry about a situation, it might mean “objectively” understanding the nature of the problem you face. A calmer, more patient perspective can help you to address the situation more effectively, rather than just stewing in your anger.

Firmly set limits: Know what you find acceptable and what you are not willing to accept. When someone is being intrusive or making unreasonable demands on you, be clear about your limits and calmly, but firmly, maintain them.

Be conscious of the negative effects of your anger: By remaining aware of the downside of yelling, being passive-aggressive, hitting, or expressing your anger in other destructive ways, you at least help yourself to question your reaction. From there, you can think about more constructive ways to respond. This can often require active and frequent self-talk.

When you repeatedly fail at responding to your anger constructively, you might ask yourself what else you can do. People who have struggled with anger across many situations for some time might need to seek therapy. But if your anger only seems to overtake you in certain specific circumstances, consider whether avoiding the situation would be the best (and a truly healthy) course of action. If that is not possible, try withdrawing quickly when your anger begins to rise. The better you are at viewing your anger as a noteworthy signal that something is wrong, rather than just reflexively respond to it, the better you will be at responding to it in ways that can improve or resolve problems.

Check out this brief video on this topic:

Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation, and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

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