November 9, 2021
How to Deal with Anger: 9 Therapist Approved Ways
Written by Rachel Eddins
Everyone feels angry at one point or another.
It’s an emotion that the “being human” package comes with. We can’t really avoid it.
But when you are drowning in these feelings ─ it’s time to look at how to deal with anger. More often than not, your angry feelings are entirely legitimate, but when you cross the line, it can be scary.
No one wants their children or their partner to be literally afraid of them. So, in this post, we will cover:
- What anger is
- Why is expressing anger bad for you
- The effects of anger
- Why we get into the anger habit
- Signs you need help controlling your anger
- Nine ways to deal with anger
- New responses to stress
- Help that’s available
What Is Anger?
Many people think that anger is caused by hormonal changes or brain activity, which is partly true. Researchers have found that while hormones play a role in an angry response, there is always a cogitative (thinking) component.
Some people think that humans are innately aggressive warlike. While our behavior is sometimes hostile toward others, anger is not part of our fundamental nature.
Frustration may lead to aggression, but it is not inevitable. Some people respond to frustrating events with anger, while others don’t.
Anger is only one response to frustration. In many cultures, people are taught to respond to frustration in other ways.
Since Freud’s day, psychologists have disagreed about the value of venting feelings. It may surprise you to know that today’s research shows that expressing anger often results in more irritation and tension rather than feeling calmer.
Why Expressing Anger Can Be Bad for You
Giving vent to anger can produce the following kinds of harmful effects:
- Your blood pressure increases.
- The original problem is worse rather than better.
- You come across as unfriendly and intimidating.
- The other person becomes angry with you as a result of your behavior.
Physical Effects of Anger
Heart. Researchers at Stanford University have found that of all the personality traits found in Type A patients, the potential for hostility is the key predictor for coronary disease. The combination of anger and hostility is the most deadly.
Stomach and intestines. Anger has a very negative effect on the stomach and has even been associated with the development of ulcerative colitis.
Nervous system. Anger is destructive for you because it exaggerates the associated hormonal changes. Chronic suppressed anger is damaging because it activates the sympathetic nervous system responses without releasing the tension. It is a bit like stepping down on a car’s accelerator while slamming on the brakes.
Why We Get into the Anger Habit
Anger is our response to stress. Many times we feel anger to avoid feeling some other emotion, such as anxiety or hurt.
Or we may feel angry when we are frustrated because we want something and can’t have it. Sometimes, feeling angry is a way of mobilizing ourselves in the face of a threat.
As a result, anger may be helpful because it stops (blocks) stress. Here are two examples:
You are rushing all day in your home office to meet an impossible deadline.
Your daughter bounces in after school and gives you a big hug as you furiously type on your computer. You snap, “Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy?
You have just finished taking an important exam.
You have studied for weeks, and the result is significant to your career. All the way home you fantasize about dinner at your favorite Italian restaurant.
When you get home, your husband has prepared a steak dinner for you. You yell, “Why don’t you ask me before you just assume you know what I want?”
This explains why people often respond with anger when they experience the following kinds of stress:
- Being in a hurry
- Being overstimulated
- Being overworked
- Feeling abandoned or attacked
- Feeling forced to do something you don’t want to do
- Feeling out of control
- Guilt, shame, or hurt
- Physical pain
5 Signs You Need Help Controlling Your Anger
You feel like you’re often holding in your angry feelings.
As you go about your daily activities, do you find that you have to restrain feelings of anger? Anger can be hurtful to you if you feel it all the time and if it’s directed toward people or events that are regularly part of your day.
Repressing anger isn’t easy; if you’re always trying to hold anger in, you could be feeling drained and exhausted. Held in anger can also lead to an explosion, whether as an angry outburst or behavior such as binge eating.
Your body is telling you your anger is out of control.
If you’re angry much of the time, you might be experiencing persistent headaches from clenching your jaw or from holding so much tension in your body. Maybe you feel jumpy and too quick to react.
If you’re angry too much too often, it’s likely your body is also having a hard time.
You find it difficult to set your anger aside.
Perhaps you become overwhelmed by frustrated feelings before you have time to think through solutions.
Maybe somewhere in the back of your mind, you realize your anger isn’t productive or rational, yet you don’t feel you have the strength to curb its power over you.
You feel like or have been told that you tend to blame others.
Negative thoughts and feelings might be overwhelming you; maybe you tend to direct them outward, blaming others for your frustrations. Perhaps you realize you’re blaming others too often.
Talking to someone to process what’s going on in your life might help shed light on deeper issues holding you back from peace.
Your anger trumps your deeper feelings and values.
Your anger is likely out of control if it has a stronger presence in your life than the very things that make you—your values, beliefs, and relationships with people you care about.
Maybe you’re in an intimate relationship with someone you care for and respect, yet find yourself growing angry at them in ways you can’t control.
How to deal with anger and frustration, 9 Ways
Understanding your anger can be an essential first step toward managing it. Learning what triggers your frustration and developing strategies for responding to triggers really helps; however, struggling alone with such a daunting task can make even simple steps toward peace seem too difficult.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help—sharing the work of unburdening yourself of your anger can make a lasting and meaningful difference in your life.
1. Understand your anger.
If you’re angry, it can be hard to slow down and take in what’s going on.
But if you take a few notes about your anger—when you’re angry, who you’re mad at, what’s happening in your body, and why certain situations make you feel so frustrated—you can begin to approach your anger triggers a little more mindfully.
Imagine you have a friend who relies on you too often for money. You feel really angry whenever he asks you for things.
It’s normal to feel frustrated in such situations, but your anger makes you feel out of control. If you try to understand why your friend sets you off, you might realize it’s because you’re not feeling supported enough by people in your life or because you’re chronically stressed about your own financial situation.
It’s easier to do this after the fact, or after you’ve had time for your body to “cool down”. Just make a habit of reflecting back on the situation and see what it is about the situation that triggers you without simply blaming the other person.
Try and identify your need or emotion in the situation.
2. Pay attention to how your angry thoughts are phrased.
When your anger flares up, you can start to think in black-and-white, dramatic terms. You might think, “He never remembers to do what I ask,” or “She’s always undermining me at work.”
When you start thinking in terms of “never” and “always,” it can feel like the problem is unresolvable, and your angry feelings are justified. But if you try to bring your thoughts down a notch by instead saying to yourself, “I felt like Julie undermined me, and that was frustrating,” it becomes easier to imagine ways in which you could address the problem.
Reassuring yourself that the irrational thoughts which sometimes accompany anger aren’t necessarily true can be very calming.
3. Communicate and ask questions.
When you’re feeling heated, you can jump to conclusions about what someone said or did. Giving yourself a moment to assess the situation can help diffuse angry feelings.
For example, if you have an appointment with your boss and she’s late, try to think of logical reasons why she might be late before concluding that she doesn’t value your time. For every conclusion, you draw, come up with an alternate perspective as well.
If you don’t understand what someone meant by a particular comment, asking them about it will feel much better than dwelling on all the potential meanings. “Can I clarify…?”
4. Talk to someone.
Chronic anger can feel like a heavy and unmanageable load. If you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing stems from the flow of your angry thoughts, asking someone else for perspective can be a big relief.
Of all the people affected by your struggle with anger, you have the most to gain from breaking free of its grip. You can feel better. Reaching out can point you in the right direction.
5. Call a time-out.
This is a very effective technique for breaking the sequence of behavior that leads to a blowup. It works best if it is discussed ahead of time and both people agree to use it.
Here’s how it works: Either person in an interaction can initiate a time-out gesture like a referee in a football game. The other person is obligated to return the gesture and stop talking.
6. Check it out.
If anger is a response to personal pain, it makes sense to ask the other person, “What’s hurting?”
7. Make positive statements.
It may be helpful to memorize a few positive statements to say yourself when your anger is being triggered.
These statements can remind you that you can choose your behavior when dealing with anger instead of reacting in a knee-jerk manner—for example:
- “I can take care of my own needs,”
- “His needs are just as important as mine,” and
- “I am able to make good choices.”
8. Be prepared with a memorized response.
Here are a few statements and questions which will help deescalate anger:
- What’s bothering me is…
- If it continues like this, I’ll have to take care of myself.
- What do you need now?
- So what you want is…
9. What to Do Instead of Getting Angry
Here are some constructive things you can do to reduce stress—instead of becoming angry:
- Beat a pillow with a tennis racket.
- Do relaxation exercises.
- Get physical exercise.
- Listen to your favorite music.
- Make a joke.
- Play games.
- Say it out loud.
- State your needs assertively.
- Take a nap.
- Write about it.
Find New Responses to Stress
More often than not, an angry response results when we are unhappy with someone else’s behavior or a boundary has been betrayed.
When you are learning how to deal with anger, you need to find new responses to bumps in the road. Here are some other responses you can choose instead of flying off the handle:
- Set limits. Let’s say a friend hasn’t returned a book you loaned to her. Now she wants to borrow another one. You could say, “I’m not going to be able to lend you this book until you return the first one.”
- Don’t wait. When you realize that you’re feeling annoyed by a situation, speak up. Don’t wait until your annoyance escalates to anger.
- Be assertive. Say in a positive way what you want from the other person. For example, say, “Please call me when you get home,” rather than, “Would you mind giving me a call when you get there?”
Many people find that the source of their anger is connected to unmet needs, unexpressed emotions, or feelings such as fear or shame.
If you are feeling out of control with your anger or are simply tired of feeling frustrated at the big and the little things, give us a call. Contact one of our counselors for help on Dealing with Anger. Our therapists in Houston can help you learn how to deal with anger, get to the root of your triggers and find solutions that meet your needs.
Register for an Online Anger Management Class
To get started now, give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.
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