Your second grader wouldn't stop interrupting you while you were on a video conference call (which kept lagging). Then your grocery delivery got canceled — and you have no bread, eggs or milk left. And, to top it all off, it's pouring rain right when you were planning to go for a run. Let's just say you're fuming.
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Logic and reasoning can go by the wayside when our emotions are inflamed. And when we’re really anxious, small provocations and upsets can really throw us over our thresholds. We’re stressed and we’re angry.
If you feel like you're more agitated these days (which all seem to blur together), you’re not alone. A 2019 NPR-IBM Watson Health poll found 84% of people surveyed believe Americans are angrier today than they were a generation ago.
We talked with Registered Psychotherapist Natacha Duke, MA,RP about whether anger really is on the rise — and strategies for keeping your anger under control.
Anger is a reflexive emotion, so it can be hard to manage. Plus, it doesn’t help that generally we don’t talk much about anger, or what to do if you feel overwhelmed by it.
But it’s not an impossible emotion to manage.
In fact, if you work on your awareness — knowing how your mind and body react when you become angry — you can get better at managing your anger.
“While anger is not always negative, unmanaged anger can cause physical, emotional and interpersonal difficulties”, says Duke.
But anger management can help. Essentially, it’s a set of therapeutic techniques and strategies designed to help you control and express your anger in healthy and constructive ways.
“A first step might be to track your anger triggers, as well as your early anger warning signs”, says Duke. “Identifying the types of things that make you mad and implementing healthy coping strategies early on is essential.”
The goal of anger management isn’t to eliminate anger entirely(after all it lets us know when we need to make changes), but to learn to cope with anger in healthier ways. This management can include working with a professional. But a big part of it is making space for your feelings earlier on to prevent your emotions from becoming difficult to control.
Over the years, research has shown that anxiety and depression are on the rise, especially for young adults in the U.S. The relationship between anger and anxiety and depression is bi-directional—meaning that anger can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression and vice-versa.
Anger is also the result of feeling out of control, which was a common feeling throughout the course of the pandemic.
Instead of avoiding your anger and bottling it up, anger management encourages us to make peace with the little red monster inside.
Here are some tips for how to manage your anger in a healthy and productive way:
Anger can hit you like a wave in the moment. That’s why a simple practice like stopping and counting to ten can help put a pause on it.Yes, this may sound like something you teach a pre-schooler — but taking a pause or even giving yourself a mini “timeout” can do wonders.
This can give you the time you need to cool down and think more rationally, while also helping you think before you speak. Often, we end up saying something we regret when overcome by anger. Taking a mindful pause can help prevent your anger from escalating further.
There’s a variety of ways you can take a pause when you feel anger coming on, including:
Whether your anger is toward someone else, yourself or a situation, a moment of breathwork can help reset your mind. Breathwork has been shown to help put you in a more relaxed state, calm your nervous system and take you out of fight-or-flight mode.
Keep it simple: Inhale deeply through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. You can use this breathing tactic before, during or after taking a pause.
Another way to help control our anger reflex is to acknowledge what we’re feeling. By labeling the emotion and what is making us angry, we’re able to think more rationally.
“Self-compassionate stance can be helpful for allowing space for our big feelings because it acknowledges that they are part of being human. Giving space to our difficult emotions, without judgment, will help to manage them”.
The first step is simply acknowledging how you’re feeling by admitting to yourself: “I’m feeling angry and that’s okay.” Then, gently ask yourself: Why? It can be hard at first to admit what you’re angry about (or who you’re angry with),but defining the reason can help create a roadmap out of your anger spiral.
This can look different for everyone, but you should have a toolkit in the back of your mind with strategies to bring you back to a place of calm. Once you acknowledge and normalize your anger, trying to anchor yourself through your breath can be helpful.
Here are some things to try:
Sometimes, the thing that can help calm your anger is to not take yourself too seriously. There are many valid reasons to be angry — it’s a normal emotion after all. But if you’re able, it can be helpful to look back at events that once made you angry in a different light.
Whether you’re upset over missing a gathering because you were running late or because you got cut off by a driver on the road, it’s good to remember that things like these aren’t experiences that will impact your life in any major way. Learning to laugh at your missteps can help take the pressure off yourself and others — and ultimately extinguish your anger.
Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or deep relaxation, can help you stay present in the moment and avoid getting caught up in angry thoughts. Take steps upfront, like calming your body through yoga or your mind through guided meditation.
It can be tough to deal with anger when the frustration you’re feeling is towards someone else. Oftentimes, placing blame on others can increase tension and delay a conflict resolution.
When expressing your feelings, use "I" statements to avoid sounding accusatory. For example, try saying: "I feel upset when..." instead of"You always..."
Deciding when to seek help for anger problems can vary from person to person, but there are some common signs and indicators that may suggest it's time to get help from a professional. Regardless, there’s no shame in wanting to get better at dealing with your anger.
You should consider getting help if your anger is:
A mental health professional can help you assess the concern and provide guidance, support and tailored strategies to help you manage and express your anger in healthier ways.