A Beginner’s Guide to Managing Anger
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Betsabé Rubio LMFT, LPC
Intense anger can overwhelm us and make us feel like we’ve lost control. We may act in ways we later regret, and those we care about may get caught in the crossfire. Often, exploring our anger teaches us a great deal about our current life experience.
While we must make time to learn from our anger, it is also important to be able to manage it appropriately when it arises. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas to consider:
1. Frustration Tolerance
Your frustration tolerance is the extent to which you can stay calm in the face of stressors that trigger—or set off—your anger. Imagine a glass filled with water. The amount of water represents your baseline frustration—the amount of anxiety, stress, or anger you walk around with on any given day. This level is different for different people, and it can change throughout the day. The empty space in the glass is your frustration tolerance—how much more water can the glass take in before spilling over and making a mess? The less water and the more space, the more room we have for dealing with stressors as the day progresses. The more water our glass contains, the more likely our emotions will get the best of us.
We can all benefit from being aware of our baseline levels so that we can manage them through self-care, relaxation techniques, or therapy. Check in with yourself to become aware of how you are feeling (physically, emotionally, mentally) a few times per day. You can use the water glass image or even rate it on a scale of one to 10. Once you know how likely you are to get triggered, the more opportunity you have to do something about it.
Self-care is anything you do to nurture yourself and may include hobbies, meditation, pampering, exercise, social activities, etc. Prioritizing self-care will lead to more satisfaction and enjoyment in your life, which will naturally lower your baseline frustration. Taking care of yourself on a regular basis increases your frustration tolerance and decreases your likelihood of being triggered.
When dealing with anger, it is important to be proactive, which means using your tools before you need them; and self-care is one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox. You can even increase the effectiveness of your self-care routine if you remind yourself that the activity is meant to nurture you and reduce your overall level of tension.
You will be adding another layer of significance to your activity, which may allow you to be more open to its benefits.
3. Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques are an example of self-care but emphasize regulating your physical experience to affect your mental and emotional experiences. Meditation, breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation are avenues you can use to decrease tension, increase your frustration tolerance, and develop receptivity to a state of calm. You may need guidance in these areas, so talk to a therapist, read books, seek out a yoga or meditation teacher, etc.
Use technology to your benefit, and download apps or podcasts designed to train you to relax. Relaxation techniques can be used as a regular part of your routine (self-care) or as a coping response to rising anger.
Prioritizing self-care will lead to more satisfaction and enjoyment in your life, which will naturally lower your baseline frustration. Taking care of yourself on a regular basis increases your frustration tolerance and decreases your likelihood of being triggered.
4. Coping Skills
Coping skills are the behaviors you use in the moment, as soon as you recognize that you are being triggered. They include relaxation techniques, finding distractions, journaling, talking to someone, time-outs, etc. Your ability to use coping skills effectively relies on your awareness of your anger’s progression. If you practice becoming aware of your baseline frustration and your frustration tolerance, you can become more aware of the cues related to your anger. Many people notice the physiological signs first, which can include muscular tension, rapid breathing or heartbeat, and feeling flushed or warm. Mental or emotional cues can include racing thoughts and feelings of dread or danger. The moment you catch any of these signs, you must implement a coping skill. If you wait too long, your skills may not be as effective, or they may not work at all.
You have the power to learn as many coping skills as you can to develop an arsenal of weapons to use against your destructive anger. If one doesn’t work, you have other options. You may even categorize your coping skills for use at different times during your anger’s progression. In the early stages, you may find that a few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing or thought labeling works well. In later stages, you may find that distracting yourself from a stressor or taking a time-out is more helpful.
Again, you may need guidance in developing a comprehensive list of coping skills. Don’t assume you need to come up with the list on your own; if you could do that, you might not have problems with your anger. Ask your family and friends, talk to a therapist, or do some research. You’ll find what works for you.
5. Address Underlying Issues
Even with a great deal of effort, sometimes anger still feels out of control. In this case, you might need to address the underlying causes of anger. Anger is often thought to be a secondary emotion, covering up for more uncomfortable primary emotions such as shame,sadness, or fear.
Difficult life experiences, trauma, and loss can contribute to a sense of injustice or frustration with the world. If you find that you and your relationships suffer because of your anger, please seek help. You deserve to find the peace of mind that anger prevents you from experiencing. With help from a professional, you will learn to understand what fuels your anger—and more importantly, how to finally let it go.
© Copyright 2015 by Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S, therapist in Southlake, Texas. All Rights Reserved.