When it comes to emotional releases, anger is the most common one that gets out of hand. Learning anger management methods that allow you to ‘release’ the emotion of anger without getting out of control could save your relationships, your job, and your sanity.
Some people are more irritable and more easily angered than others. Those who suffer from PTSD or trauma, for example, often have trouble controlling their anger. Others are simply people who run hot and have difficulty staying calm when triggered.
We all have our triggers and pet peeves that sometimes seem trivial to others but produce a heated reaction in us.
When you feel angry, don’t be surprised if your nervous system is dysregulated. Learning how to calm your nervous system with strategies such as breathing exercises or nature walks, for example, can help you control your anger.
Anger can make us feel in all kinds of ways. Some physical manifestations of anger include a rapid heartbeat, feeling flushed, the urge to hit something, unintentional clenching of fists or the jaw, and even crying ‘tears of frustration’. Inside, our reality becomes so skewed that we lash out verbally at strangers, friends, or family. Sometimes we say things we don’t really mean or haven’t thought through. When you feel like you either want to scream or you want to cry, sometimes it’s best to sit with your emotions and try not to be reactive. While crying is healthy, lashing out at people is not.
Humans have been angry since the dawn of time. All manner of ancient texts from Greek mythology to the Bible address anger, mostly advising us against giving in to it. Buddha said, “Beware of bodily anger, and control thy body! … Beware of the anger of the mind, and control thy mind!”
Getting a Grip on Anger
As anyone who’s been trapped in the dizzying effects of anger knows, getting a grip on it is much, much easier said than done. Anger management isn’t always easy. In the heat of the moment, your knee-jerk, angry reaction feels justified. Often, after anger has subsided, feelings of embarrassment, shame, and regret soon follow. You realize how you acted in the heat of the moment may have caused permanent damage in your relationship. That’s when you realize you need to learn some anger management tips.
Anger management is possible. In fact, entire self-help industries have been built around anger management.
Why does anger make us act the way it does, and what can we do to manage our anger?
The Angry Brain
Anger, like all emotions, begins in the amygdala, a tiny structure in our limbic system, often referred to as the ‘lizard brain’. Our emotional responses and behaviors involve the limbic system, an ancient part of our brain that predates the frontal lobe. When humans first evolved, the limbic system kept us alive by responding immediately to anything perceived as danger.
The frontal lobe is a newer, younger part of our brain. It can be divided into 4 structures, one of which is called the prefrontal cortex. It’s an area responsible for ‘higher’ brain function; things like emotional regulation, decision making and logical thinking.
When we’re angry, our limbic system is activated and reacts before our prefrontal cortex has a chance to weigh in. Catecholamines, a class of neurotransmitters responsible for our ‘fight-or-flight’ response, get released, giving us a significant dose of adrenaline. That’s why anger leaves us feeling so energized that we have a hard time regaining control.
Understanding Your Anger
British author and poet David White wrote a beautiful poem on anger. The full poem can be found in his book, Consolations, but this short excerpt sums it up nicely:
“Anger is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family, and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt.”
Anger has a bad reputation, categorized as a ‘negative’ emotion, something we ought not to experience. However, feeling angry is a sign that we care about what’s happening, and as we’ve come to understand, anger is instinctual; not much can be done to avoid feeling angry. When it comes to anger management, unhealthily suppressing our anger should not be a goal we strive towards. What we can do instead, is try to understand where our anger is coming from (the root cause of the trigger) and what our anger might be trying to tell us.
Often, anger is masking other emotions such as fear, sadness, shame, confusion, jealousy or guilt. It’s common for men to think it’s unacceptable to feel sad, so they’ll mask their sadness with anger. Women do this too, though.
It’s difficult to find a healthy outlet for the emotions that make us vulnerable, but there are healthier ways to release anger. We can do something to get the anger out of our bodies.
Anger Management Techniques
As long as you learn healthy ways to release or express anger, it’s perfectly fine to get angry sometimes. Anger is healthy, normal, and part of being human. People run into problems when they let their anger take over and then blame poor behavior or aggression on their anger.
The key to anger management is not to suppress anger, but to accept it for what it is and then sit with it, and try to understand it. Because our brains are ‘plastic’, there are things we can do to amplify the voice of our prefrontal cortex (the logical part) and drown out what our amygdala (the reactionary, emotional part) is telling us to do.
Relaxation techniques can reduce the amount of activity going on in your amygdala, bringing your stress levels back to baseline, allowing you to delve deeper into your anger from a calmer place where you’re in control. Try relaxation techniques such as:
- Taking deep belly breaths or trying one of these breathing exercises
- counting to ten
- hugging yourself
- ‘butterfly taps’ and other grounding techniques
If you need to physically ‘let it out’, shadow boxing, safely throwing or hitting something (like a punching bag or hitting a baseball with a bat) or screaming into a pillow can offer a huge relief and a healthier release.
Your relationships with everyone, including yourself, will improve when you know how to control your emotional responses. It takes lots of practice, and likely several attempts before you even remember to give it a try, but learning how to manage your anger is well worth the effort.
Talk To Your Anger
After you’ve calmed down, it’s a good idea to take a look at the situation to try and understand where such a strong emotional response is coming from.
You can ask yourself questions such as:
- Where do I feel anger in my body?
- What was happening prior to me getting angry?
- Has anything like this happened before? It’s possible something from your past, like unresolved trauma, is manifesting itself in ways that don’t make sense now but might with a bit of reflection.
- If it’s something to do with a relationship (maybe someone you love said something insensitive) ask yourself if you would have the same reaction with someone else.
- Is there anything you can do to avoid this situation in the future? Sometimes it’s as simple as removing your tiggers.
Remember not to beat yourself up over feeling angry. Learning how to manage your anger isn’t something that will happen overnight. Anger management is a skill that takes some people years to master, and it needs regular maintenance. Mindful practices like meditation or yoga can help you get there, but ultimately it comes down to you being responsible for your actions and diligent with your practice of emotional regulation techniques.
When To Seek Help
Some people need more help than others when it comes to anger management. If you didn’t have a good example of anger management growing up, you might have developed some habits that are tough to break.
A psychiatrist or therapist can be an extremely useful resource when you’re learning new coping techniques and trying to weed out ones that have been long ingrained. There are trained professionals who can provide insight into your behaviors that you might not ever consider on your own.
Interestingly, your genetics might also play a role in how stressed or angry you tend to get. Certain genes can make you more prone to aggression if you have a specific genetic mutation that results in a more high-functioning version of it. A DNA test from CircleDNA can offer you insight into your personality and can let you know if you have a eugenic predisposition towards aggression.