When is anger a problem?
Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats. It allows us to fight and defend ourselves when we are attacked.
Anger becomes a problem when it creates trouble for you with other people, your work, your health, day-to-day living, or the law. Anger is also a problem when other people around you are frightened, hurt or feel they cannot talk to you in case you become angry. Anger can become a problem when it comes out as aggression, rage, self-harm or harm to others. This might be because feelings of anger can be overwhelming or hard to control. Anger can also be a sign that someone might be experiencing sadness, depression or another mental health difficulty.
Learning to be aware of our anger and to express it in a safe way is an important part of good mental health. If you feel angry a lot or have trouble controlling your anger, there are lots of things you can do to help manage this in a healthy way.
Why do I feel angry?
Anger can be our way of expressing or responding to a range of other feelings, like:
- embarrassment or humiliation
- guilt or shame
- hurt or sadness
- feeling unable to control a situation
- feeling threatened or frightened
- feeling unfairly treated
- feeling misunderstood or not listened to
- feeling the pressure of living in two worlds (that is, First Nation Peoples and non-Indigenous)
- feeling a loss of connection to family, community or country.
How can I manage my anger?
The following suggestions are offered by © headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation Ltd 2019 —
A – Acknowledge your ‘angry’ triggers and signs
N – Neutralise the situation
G – Get to the bottom of why you are feeling angry
E – Explore your solutions
R – Reach out to someone you trust
Goals of anger management:
1. Prevent anger from becoming rage or 'out of control'
2. Reduce intensity
3. Reduce frequency
4. Reduce duration
5. Increase acceptance using Radical Acceptance DTB Skill
6. Increase awareness of self, others, and circumstances
7. Increase compassion for self and others
The following strategies to anger management were retrieved from the Australian Psychological Society website, January 2019: https://www.psychology.org.au/for-the-public/Psychology-Topics/Managing-your-anger
Anger management is about knowing the triggers and early warning signs of anger, and learning techniques to calm down before the situation gets out of control. It is about learning and practising better ways of expressing anger if necessary.
Recognise when you get angry
- List things that can trigger your anger. This might be things like running late for an appointment, your teenager leaving dirty dishes or a co-worker blaming you for something you didn’t do.
- Consider if you able to avoid any of these triggers, at least some of the time?
- Are you able to do something in these situations that would help you feel differently?
- Notice the physical warning signs that you are getting angry: pounding heart, flushed face, sweating, tense jaw, tightness in your chest or gritting your teeth. The earlier you can recognise these warning signs, the more successful you will be at calming yourself down before your anger gets out of control.
Work on responses that help with your anger
Develop a list of things to say to yourself before, during and after situations in which you may get angry. It is more helpful if these things focus on how you are managing the situation rather than what other people should be doing. Psychologists call this type of thinking ‘self-talk’.
- “I’ll be able to handle this. It could be rough, but I have a plan.”
- “If I feel myself getting angry, I’ll know what to do.”
- “Stay calm, relax, breathe easy.”
- “Stay calm, I’m okay, she’s not attacking me personally.”
- “Act calm, I can look and act calm.”
- “I managed that well. I can do this. I’m getting better at this.”
- “I felt angry, but I didn’t lose my cool.”
Take time out
Step away from a situation or an argument if you feel your anger getting out of control. Go outside the room or for a walk. Before you go, make a time to talk about the situation when both of you have calmed down. During time out, plan how you are going to stay calm when your conversation resumes.
Strategies for managing anger include counting to ten, smiling, playing soothing music, talking to a good friend, or focusing on some simple, mechanical task like polishing the car or folding laundry.
Practice relaxing strategies
Practise some relaxation strategies like breathing deeply from your diaphragm, or progressively relaxing all of your muscles.
Learn assertiveness skills
Ensure that anger is channelled and expressed in clear and respectful ways through assertiveness training. Being assertive means being clear with others about what your needs and wants are, feeling OK about asking for them, but respecting the other person’s needs and concerns as well and being prepared to negotiate.
Try to acknowledge your anger
Admit when a particular issue has made you angry by telling yourself and others. Letting someone know that you felt angry when they did or said something is more helpful than just acting out the anger.
Change the way you think about things
When you’re angry, your thinking can become exaggerated and irrational. Try replacing these thoughts. Instead of telling yourself “I can’t stand it, it’s awful and everything’s ruined” reassure yourself that “It’s frustrating, and it’s understandable that I’m upset about it, but it’s not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it”.
Avoid negative words
Avoid using words like never or always (such as “you’re always late!”). These statements are usually inaccurate, make you feel as though your anger is justified, and don’t leave much possibility for the problem to be solved.
Consider who you are angry at
Make sure you think about who you express your anger to. Take care that you are not just dumping your anger on the people closest to you, or on those less powerful than you. Don’t yell at your partner, children, dog or cat when you are really angry with your boss.
Rehearse anger management strategies
Practise some anger management strategies with a friend. Ask them to help you to act out a situation where you get angry, so that you can rehearse other ways to think and behave. Practise saying things in an assertive way.
You can also use your imagination to practise your anger management strategies. Imagine yourself in a situation that can trigger your anger.Imagine how you could behave in that situation without getting angry. Imagine a situation where you did get angry. Replay the situation in your mind and imagine resolving the situation without anger.
Write things down and say things out loud to yourself
Sometimes it can help to write things down. What is happening in your life? How do you feel about the things that are happening? Writing about these topics can sometimes help give you some perspective and help you understand your feelings. What are some options for changing your situation? Also, it might sound or feel uncomfortable at first, however saying things out loud to yourself – calmly – has a surprising descalation and cathartic quality.