How to Deal with Anger: 6 Things to Keep in Mind
Anger is one of our most powerful emotions, and it is often seen as a negative one. However, a lot of the time anger is totally normal and healthy.
Anger can tell us that our boundaries have been crossed, our needs aren’t being met, that we don’t feel respected, or that something violates our sense of ethics. It can also be a very normal part of processing grief and loss.
It’s good to listen to our anger, because acknowledging it and identifying its source can teach us about ourselves, and help us identify things we need to change. And thinking that it’s “bad” to be angry – a belief that is most commonly internalized by women – can minimize or negate important feelings and experiences.
However when anger is disproportionate to a situation, or allowed to lurk beneath the surface for a long time without being addressed, it can turn explosive. And explosive anger, especially when it’s frequent, can wreak havoc on our lives and those around us.
Suppressed anger, on the other hand, can turn inward and manifest in self-destructive behavior, low self esteem, or other mental and even physical health issues.
So if something has been making you angry, and especially if that anger feels constant or you’re worried your anger might be out of control, it might be time to reflect. Here are some things you can try:
First, acknowledge your anger
Sometimes it is very obvious that you’re angry – for example, if you feel inclined to scream. But sometimes anger manifests as nagging tension, resentment, or irritation, and it can also be tangled up in sadness and hurt feelings, especially if you feel someone has wronged you.
Anger also has physical symptoms similar to stress, such as elevated blood pressure, irregular breathing, a pounding head, and many more. If you suspect that you’re angry (or are very sure that you are), don’t beat yourself up, repress your feelings, or tell yourself that the anger is wrong or bad.
Your anger is telling you that you need to address something, and you’re more likely to stay in control and deal with your anger constructively if you accept the fact that it’s happening without judgment.
Identify the source of your anger
Sometimes the source of your anger is obvious and immediate, and thus fairly straightforward to address. But if you find yourself feeling angry constantly, getting angry at inappropriate times, or in ways that are disproportionate to the situation, the real root of your anger might not be your most immediate circumstances.
Maybe something upsetting happened earlier that day or week that you never really processed; maybe you’re extra tired or stressed at work and it’s giving you a short fuse; or maybe a situation is triggering an older, more complicated wound that you’ve never really dealt with.
Give yourself a moment (or more) to calm down
When you’re in the throes of anger, it’s easy to be reactive and say or do things that you might later regret – or that at least won’t help the situation. At worst, you could lash out physically against others or yourself.
There are many strategies for dealing with anger in the moment so that a situation doesn’t get out of control. If you’re arguing with someone and feel like you want to de-escalate the situation, you can ask for a moment to excuse yourself, take some deep breaths, and reflect on why you’re upset and what you want to see change.
If your anger feels very intense and you’re having trouble staying in control, you should absolutely take some time to truly unwind – and you should feel free to ask others to allow you some time by yourself. It can be helpful to get a bit of exercise, or do something relaxing like meditation or simply listening to music.
This can help calm your nervous system, which will in turn calm your mind – allowing you to see the situation more clearly and decide a rational course of action.
Write about your feelings
If you’re angry with someone who isn’t physically present, or with someone you plan to talk to at a later time, you can start by writing that person a letter. Even if you never send it, simply writing the letter can help you vent your feelings and unravel tangled thoughts.
A key part of this exercise is reading back what you’ve written before doing anything further, as reading back your own words can give you a bit of distance and objectivity. This will in turn help you judge which thoughts and feelings are useful and constructive, rather than harmful or destructive.
If you’re angry about a circumstance that you have no control over, and thus no power to address or change, it can similarly be helpful to write about it or talk about it with someone. This can be a way of releasing your feelings and accepting the situation as best you can, so that it doesn’t erode your peace of mind.
Express your anger constructively
Once you’re feeling calm, it’s time to address the source of your anger in a way that will (ideally) lead to positive change. If you are angry with someone, or about a situation that involves you directly, you are perfectly within your rights to state that – clearly, and without shame.
Identify the source of your anger to the people in question, and if they are receptive, talk about ways that the situation can be changed to meet your needs, or so as not to trigger negative feelings. Remember that the other person may also have a stake in the situation and their needs may be different than yours.
This is why it’s important to be receptive to the other person’s feelings and be open to compromise, as long as everyone involved feels equally heard and respected. However it can happen that you express your anger clearly, firmly, and respectfully, but the other person is outright dismissive and unwilling to hear you.
This can be a signal that you’re dealing with an unsupportive person, or that a dynamic in your relationship with that person is fundamentally flawed. If that’s true, you may need to assess whether this is a good relationship, or situation, for you to remain in.
If your anger feels overwhelming, seek support
If you frequently find yourself getting disproportionately, explosively angry, and this anger is having a negative effect on your life or the people around you, it could be wise to seek the help of a specialist. This is especially true if you feel like you can’t figure out where the anger is coming from.
Help could take the form of a therapist, or a counselor or support group that specializes in anger management. Books on anger management could also be a useful resource in this situation. These resources can help you get at the root cause of your anger, and give you more advanced tools to gain control of your moment-to-moment reactions.