Anger Management Skills
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
Not everything always goes according to plan. We don't always get what we want. Our emotional reaction in these situations is often frustration, annoyance, hurt, mad, and irritation. These feelings can intensify quickly and we can impulsively say and act in a way that is hurtful and unproductive. The goal is not to ignore and repress these angry emotions but to be in control of our emotions and to be able to express these feelings in productive ways.
1. Understand the effects and consequences of your angry outbursts
Unmanaged anger can affect your:
Physical health. High levels of anger makes you susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, a weakened immune system, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
Mental health. Chronic anger consumes a lot of mental energy, clouds your thinking, can cause mood swings, put you in an irritable mood, make it difficult to concentrate, and not enjoy life. It can also lead to stress, depression, and other mental health problems.
School/Work. Constructive criticism, creative differences, grades, reviews, feedback, and heated debate can be healthy. But lashing out with angry outbursts can alienate your colleagues, teachers, supervisors, peers, and erodes their respect for you.
Relationships. Anger can cause lasting scars in the people you love and get in the way of developing meaningful friendships. A persistent angry mood can cause you to be bitter, cynical, cold-hearted, and distrusting of others. Explosive anger makes it hard for others to trust you, speak honestly, or feel comfortable to deepen connection in the relationship. Angry outbursts as a parent are especially damaging to children.
Spiritual. Anger can lead to a fatalistic worldview where you see through a lens filled with doom and gloom. You can project your anger onto God. You can struggle with the problem of evil and theodicy. You can trigger existential crises, nihilism, see through the lens of, "everything is meaningless!"
2. Acknowledge the ways you rationalize your angry outbursts You may think that your anger, aggression, and intimidation is justified. You believe that your anger helps you earn respect from people and gets you what you want. But the reality is that respect doesn’t come from bullying others. People may be afraid of you, but they won’t respect you if you can’t control yourself or handle opposing viewpoints. People are more willing to listen to you and accommodate your needs if you communicate in a respectful way.
You may think that you can’t help yourself, that anger isn’t something you can control. That it's just a part of your personality. But the reality is that while you can’t always control the situation you’re in or how it makes you feel, you can control your actions and how you express your anger. You can express your feelings without being verbally or physically abusive. Even if someone is pushing your buttons, you have a choice in how you respond.
3. Know the warning signs when you are starting to get angry.
Pay attention to the way anger feels in your body:
Knots in your stomach
Clenching your hands or jaw
Feeling clammy or flushed
Pacing or needing to walk around
Your vision changes, you are seeing red
Having trouble concentrating
Tightness in your neck or shoulders.
Flexing your muscles.
Pay attention to the way anger affects your thinking:
Ruminative negative thought patterns
Closed, tunnel-vision, like the walls are closing in.
Catastrophizing, magnifying thoughts, imagining worst case scenarios.
Increased pressure and intensity of thoughts
Pay attention to the way anger makes you feel:
Anxious, fearful, nervous, threatened
Embarrassed, guilt, shame
Frustrated, annoyed, irritated
Be self-aware of these warning signs. When you see them, think to yourself, "I am getting angry."
4. Know your triggers.
Know what sets off your anger:
When someone cuts you off in traffic.
When someone is on their phone while you are trying to talk to them.
When someone raises their voice.
When someone disrespects and invalidates you.
When you make a mistake or fail at something.
When something doesn't go your way.
When someone interrupts you.
When someone blows you off/stands you up.
When someone is late.
When you are hungry.
When you are tired.
When you are sick.
When you are too hot and sweaty.
When you are embarrassed.
When someone doesn't do what they say they are going to do.
When you have to repeat yourself.
When you are misunderstood.
When you are ignored.
When you are challenged.
When you are corrected.
When you are treated unfairly.
When someone is being rude, selfish, arrogant, mean, evil.
Knowing your triggers will help you be prepared to disarm your anger more effectively.
5. Learn and practice skills to disarm your triggers and to de-escalate your anger.
Focus on the physical sensations of anger. Tuning into the way your body feels when you’re angry can lessen the emotional intensity of your anger. Take deep breaths. Deep, slow breathing helps counteract the physiological escalation of anger. The key is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much air as possible into your lungs. Get moving. Stand up. Remove yourself from the situation. Take a brisk walk around the block. Physical activity releases pent-up energy so you can approach the situation with a cooler head. Engage your five senses. Use sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste to quickly relieve stress and cool down. Try listening to a favorite song, looking at a treasured photo, savoring a refreshing drink, squeezing a ball, or lighting a scented candle. Stretch or massage areas of tension. Roll your shoulders or gently massage your neck and scalp. Start counting slowly. Focus on the counting to let your rational mind catch up with your feelings. If you still feel out of control by the time you reach 50, start counting again.
Mindfulness. Practice focusing on things non-judgmentally.
Visualization. Transport yourself to a different place in your mind.
6. Give yourself a reality check. Get perspective.
Develop an internal voice that can challenge your angry voice. Ask yourself:
How important is this in the grand scheme of things?
Is it really worth getting angry?
Is it worth ruining the rest of my day?
What is an appropriate response to the situation?
What are my options, what can I do about it?
Is taking action worth my time?
Practice having an internal dialogue to get perspective. Practice thinking things through before you speak and act.
7. Find productive ways to express your anger. If you’ve decided that the situation is worth getting angry about and there is something you can do to make it better, the goal is to express your anger in a productive way. Learning how to express your anger will help you cope well.
Channel the intensity of your anger into other tasks. Exercise, do chores, run errands, work fueled by anger can help you complete a lot of tasks and defuse your anger. Fight fair (E.G., no berating, swearing, name calling; take turns talking). It’s OK to be upset at someone, but address the issue respectfully. Fighting fair allows you to express your own needs while still respecting others. Make the relationship your priority. Focus on maintaining and strengthening the relationship, instead of trying to win the argument or punish the other person. Respect the other person and try to understand their viewpoint. Focus on the present. Once you are in the heat of arguing, it’s easy to start throwing past grievances into the mix. Rather than looking to the past and assigning blame, focus on what you can do in the present to solve the current problem. Be willing to forgive. Forgiveness is giving up the urge to punish, which cannot compensate for the pain. Take a break if things get too heated. If your anger starts to spiral out of control, remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes or for as long as it takes you to cool down. Know when to let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going, and sometimes you get to a point where you are only adding fuel to the fire. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move away.
8. Increase your mental strength and ability to withstand distress.
Stay calm in negative situations by taking care of yourself. Taking care of your overall health can help increase your distress tolerance and ease the problems caused by anger. Manage stress. If your stress levels are through the roof, it may leave you susceptible to a short temper. Engage with relaxing activities to unwind. You’ll feel calmer and more in control of your emotions. Talk to someone you trust. Talking with a friend can help ease your stress. The person doesn’t have to provide answers, they just need to be a good listener and offer their encouragement. Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can leave you feeling agitated and short-tempered. Set a bed time and remove distractions preventing you from getting to sleep on time. Exercise regularly. It’s an effective way to burn-off tension and ease stress, and it helps you feeling more relaxed, focused, energized, and positive throughout the day.
9. Self-reflect and understand what is beneath your anger.
Is your anger masking other feelings such as embarrassment, insecurity, hurt, shame, or vulnerability? You may have a hard time acknowledging feelings other than anger. Anger can mask anxiety. When you perceive a threat, either real or imagined, your body activates the “fight or flight” response. In the case of the “fight” response, it can often manifest itself as anger or aggression. To change your anger response, you need to find out what’s causing you to feel anxious or scared. What are you worried about? Anger problems can stem from what you learned as a child. If you watched others in your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, you might think this is how anger is supposed to be expressed. How was anger expressed around you as a kid? Anger can be a symptom of your need to be in control.
You see yourself as being right (even when you're wrong).
Do you feel that a different opinion is a personal challenge?
Do you think that your way is always right and get angry when others disagree with you? Is it hard for you to compromise?
Is it hard for you to understand other people’s points of view?
Do you feel that you have to put down other people's perspective?
Is it hard for you to concede a point?
You may be using anger to control others by being loud, aggressive, and demanding. Addressing your anger might expose this deep need to control others.
Anger may be related to a low self-esteem. You may feel angry because you feel that nothing ever goes your way, that people are out to put you down, that people don't respect you. Since you see yourself in a negative light, you may interpret other perspectives as evidence of your inferiority, rather than simply a different way of looking at things. You may have trouble expressing emotions other than anger. If you are uncomfortable with different emotions, you may be stuck on an one-note anger response to situations. Looking beneath your anger might bring up uncomfortable feelings of failure and vulnerability. It would be helpful to identify your primary emotions, understand why you are feeling them, and find ways to express them.