Taking Control of Your Anger
5 Keys to a Calmer You
Posted Jan 29, 2016
Every day offers opportunities for anger to rise up and show itself. A date who shows up almost an hour late, a careless driver who ignores the stop sign and the pedestrians who are about to cross the road during the green light, an offhanded hurtful remark by a family member – these are just a few of the more familiar examples where you can feel the heat rise and you might say something you regret.
People react to anger, and express it, differently. In an identical situation, something that might cause one person nothing more but a mild annoyance could send another into a fit of blind rage. Unfortunately, traffic offers many opportunities to see this in action. While many drivers become resigned to a slow pace following the car in front of them, others furiously beat on their dashboards, toot their horns in exasperation and shout profanities, trying to move away from the terrible offender! And oftentimes anger begets anger, so the driver in front might roll down the window and respond in kind.
Anger is one of our basic emotional responses, and sometimes a pretty good warning sign that not all is well in our lives. In some cases anger is the “right” emotion to feel; for example, when someone is spreading malicious rumors about another person; when good people get treated unfairly and bad ones get away unpunished; when someone causes harm to innocent people or animals, etc. Anger keeps our sense of justice and social responsibility in check. It helps us motivate one another to be more responsible, humane and ethical. Supporting a case in point, findings from a recent Appalachian State University research project demonstrate that anger can be just as effective at motivating people to volunteer as sympathy.
No, anger alone is not a problem; excessive, uncontrollable or unreasonable anger, anger that leads to aggression or anger that turns into rage – that is a major problem. This kind of anger doesn’t appear out of thin air; usually there are many other emotions and external factors at play behind the scenes. They give rise to and amplify one another, leading to unintentional or unwarranted outbursts. Frustration, fear and excessive stress, as well as poor diet and demanding lifestyles, take their toll on our bodies and mental health, causing some to get angry more readily and more vehemently than others.
Excessive or uncontrollable anger is a dangerous emotion. It most negatively affects the body’s cardiovascular system; by causing adrenaline levels to spike and blood pressure to rise, anger is putting us increasingly at risk of developing coronary heart disease. Not to mention that people consumed by anger become distracted, unreasonable, edgy and easily provoked by virtually anything. Oftentimes this type of anger finds an easy – if undeserving – target, damaging many otherwise good relationships.
While you might be able to justify an angry response and dig your heels in that you deserve to act out as you are, you can also make a choice not to respond by opting to focus on something else. Once you manage to take command of your triggers and negative thoughts, you can get a better understanding of what is really causing you to feel so angry and then you will be able to better control your emotional responses and subsequent actions.
The following five steps can help you to be more thoughtful about your responses. Decide whether you want to react in an angry way and whether that response will best serve you.
- Identify your triggers. What is it that pushes your anger button? For example, do you get more upset when you are bored, have not had a good night’s sleep, or someone acts in a rude manner to you? There are external factors (the rude friend) and internal factors (your tired self) that come into play. You will want to be conscious of these triggers in order to figure out what conditions send you into an angry state. This first step requires you to be somewhat mindful of what’s happening and recognize what sets you off. Don’t justify the trigger; just become aware of it.
- Find a mantra that works for you. Once you recognize your triggers, you can decide if you’d like to respond in a negative way or not. If you do not, you have to have a replacement for the anger. Developing your own personal calming mantra will help to replace the immediate anger and negativity with something else. Your mind becomes focused on something more positive, more centering. Practice your mantra when you are calm and relaxed in order to get used to turning your attention to it whenever you need it most.
- Reframe your experiences. Everyone’s filters on the world are different. The filters you have tell you what frames, or interpretations, you should have for any event. You may tend to forget that the frames you put around an experience may differ very significantly from the person next to you. Learning how to change the “frame” can help reshape one experience into another. You can learn to minimize the importance of things that stress you out, upset, exasperate or anger you by looking at them from a different perspective, a new frame.
- Watch your negative self-talk. It is this negative thinking that leads to many angry outbursts. Oftentimes when something happens to annoy you, you may find yourself thinking about it long after the trigger itself is no longer present. Let’s take a basic example; you go grocery shopping and in the parking lot another shopper suddenly snatches a space you had your blinker on to enter. How rude! You choose to say nothing to the other driver, because they look a bit scary, so you go about your errands all the while fuming inside at the “injustice”. Now you are distracted by your thoughts of all the things you would like to say to the person, and you forget to buy your daughter’s favorite ice cream! When you see her and tell her this, she dissolves into tears and tells you what an awful parent you are! You blame the incident and the person who stole your space for the problems in your life. Then some family member comes along and does something else that upsets you, and voila! The anger erupts. The cycle can be stopped if you change your self-talk in the parking lot. “People are sometimes rude, and the person didn’t see my blinker or pretended not to see it. I don’t have to let him/her ruin my day. I can make a different choice. Yes, it’s bothersome but it’s not worth ruminating over and missing out on something else that is important to me.”
- Let yesterday be gone. Yesterday really is in the past. What’s been done to you doesn’t have to control how you act today. If you dwell on your hurt, hate or anger, you will just end up feeling more and more bitter with each passing day. What’s done is done, and while psychically it can feel good to keep reliving it, you are only tormenting yourself. The longer you let your anger sit inside you, the more it will deplete you. Ask yourself whether that is what you really want for yourself and people who care about you. You know it’s not worth it, so don’t waste your present by living in the past!