Experiencing anger is a healthy, necessary part of being human, but when we lack the ability to control anger, it can negatively affect interpersonal relationships, mental health, and physical well-being. Anger can range from mild irritation to explosive rage, and is commonly triggered by perceived insult from other people (i.e. offensive remarks, unfairness, or feeling taken advantage of), by a stressful event (i.e. a traffic jam or waiting in line), or by thinking back on any of these aggravating occurrences. Evolutionarily, anger allows us to respond with aggression when we are under threat; it prepares our bodies and minds for the “fight” part of the “fight or flight” response, and is accompanied by a racing heart, increase in blood pressure, and a rise in adrenaline and noradrenaline. Yet this response is not well adapted to help us effectively deal with most of the situations that arouse anger in our everyday modern lives. In fact, unmanaged anger can be maladaptive, as studies have linked it to coronary heart diseases, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, digestive problems, insomnia, muscle tension and headaches. It is also related to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues.
Though anger can feel like it’s out of your control, there are many strategies that can help you to practice managing it more effectively.
How To Properly Manage Anger
1) Be aware of your anger triggers and reactions: The first step in addressing any problem is cultivating awareness. Are there particular people, interactions, situations, or other specific times when you often get angry? What internal signs (i.e. quickening heartbeat, warm face, clenched fists, racing thoughts) can signal to you that your anger is rising? Once you are able to recognize these warning signs and situations, you can then implement strategies to calm yourself and express your anger constructively.
2) Give yourself a break: When anger flares up, we often say and do things that we regret later, and that aren’t helpful to resolve the issue at hand. Instead, give yourself a moment to slow your thoughts and calm your nervous system. Deep breathing exercises, visualizing a tranquil place, or counting backwards from 10 can give you some needed mental space.
3) Make stress-relieving activities routine: If your overall stress levels are lower, you will be slower to anger and be more readily able to access your coping resources. Exercise is an integral part of a balanced routine, as it releases endorphins, reduces tension, and improves sleep quality. Developing a mindfulness practice is another way to decrease your overall stress levels and learn to deescalate anger quickly.
4) Communicate your anger assertively: We get angry for a reason, and it’s healthy to express it in a way that is constructive. While it’s not helpful to explode with anger, it’s also not productive to ignore or repress anger, as this can lead to resentment, passive-aggressive behaviour, depression and other negative outcomes. In interpersonal conflicts, use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs (i.e. “I feel angry and unappreciated when you’re late for dinner”) as opposed to “you” statements that tend to exacerbate conflict and disconnection (“You’re always so selfish!”). Communicating assertively will not only help you to manage anger, but will likely also improve the quality of your relationships.
5) Seek support: When explosive anger becomes a habitual reaction, it can be extremely difficult to manage without support. Persistent anger can signal to us that we are feeling constantly mistreated, exploited or hopeless, and it often masks feelings of disappointment, hurt and shame. As anger is linked to many mental health problems, working with a qualified clinician to address the causes and best course of treatment can be the most effective pathway to improved health and well-being.
By: Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.