We’ve all felt it at some point. Something simple happens, and before we know it our heart is pounding, and scalding anger wells up inside, threatening to spill out of our mouths to the detriment of anyone nearby. It may have been caused by a sports game on TV, or a child dropping a bowl, someone cutting us off in traffic, or standing in line at the grocery store.
It may be because of something someone said, or the look they had on their face as they said it that triggers the reaction. It may not even be them, but someone or something else that they remind us of.
Anger is a normal and sometimes healthy emotional response to the situations that life throws our way. It is one of those emotions that is so very human and pervasive in our daily lives, but it can be often destructive. It can give birth to harsh words that damage relationships, or it can go even beyond that and cause emotional and physical harm to others.
In order to learn how to control your anger, it is important that you understand it – where it comes from, what triggers it, how to deal with it when it rears its ugly head.
Getting to Grips with Anger Issues
It’s important to understand that anger isn’t all bad. It is a normal emotional reaction to certain situations. When you see abuse or a reckless disregard for the lives of others, for example, getting angry is a very normal thing to do. I daresay it’s even a godly thing to do – we see often enough in Scripture how the Lord gets angry when people are treated unjustly.
If that anger leads you to constructively engage with the issue for a positive resolution, then anger has run its proper course and has been expressed in a healthy way. The problem comes when anger is easily triggered, bottled up, or expressed in destructive ways that harm others, either verbally or otherwise. While anger is a healthy emotional reaction, it can also become unhealthy in its frequency and expression.
In any given situation, anger can be triggered by reminders of past offenses done to us, poor communication, jumping to conclusions, and generalizing. We’ll talk about this more when we speak about how to handle anger, but one of the triggers of anger is circumventing logic and framing things in irrational ways.
The flood of angry emotions leaves us unable to make good decisions and think rationally, which can cause problems in work or personal relationships. If we don’t curb our initial instincts, it’s easy for anger to take over.. How then can we take control of our anger and make sure it doesn’t destroy our relationships and our sense of inner peace?
Tips for How to Control Your Anger
Take a breath
Anger often inspires knee-jerk reactions to situations. When we think someone has said something offensive or we jump to a conclusion and make a generalization, the impulse is simply to react.
Buy yourself some time. Rather than launching straight at the other person, take a moment to breathe slowly and calm yourself down, remove yourself from the situation and then ask them for clarification about what they said or meant. Count down slowly from a hundred if the situation allows, and then respond or ask a follow-up question to understand the situation better.
You lose nothing by taking a few moments before you respond, but you can lose a lot if you respond half-cocked and in anger. Expressing anger violently or aggressively is an unhealthy way of dealing with anger. Taking some time to gather your thoughts before you respond helps you to express your emotions constructively.
Practice empathy and forgiveness
It certainly isn’t easy but taking the time to step into the other person’s shoes when you’re feeling angry is a good way to deal with anger. Anger can blind us to any perspective or feelings other than our own. If you choose to take a step back and see the situation from the other person’s perspective, it can help you to check your feelings and measure your response.
Forgiveness is also hard, especially when the person you’re angry at is a repeat offender. Forgiveness releases us from negative feelings toward that person. It doesn’t mean that what they’ve done is okay but forgiving them means you don’t have to also deal with ill-feeling directed at them while addressing the situation. For Christians, the ability to forgive even repeat offenders flows from our own forgiveness by God in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:32).
Have a time out
Similar to taking a few moments to breathe and calm yourself down before you respond, if you find yourself getting hot under the collar and ready to let loose on someone, give yourself a time out. We usually associate timeouts with children, but they can also be effective for adults.
Leave the room if you can or close the laptop for a bit and give yourself time to think and decompress. Being physically away from the situation can allow you to recalibrate and gain a fresh, more clear perspective on the situation, not to mention it gets you away from the potential source of tension.
Muscle relaxation techniques
If you find yourself getting angry, you can use techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation techniques, where you engage and relax various muscles in your body, starting from your shoulders and working your way down your body. This gives you something to focus on and can relieve some of the physical tension that can result from feeling angry.
Go for a walk
Apart from removing you from the situation that may be behind your feelings of anger, taking a walk or exercising helps you relax and produce hormones like endorphins that help you feel good and reduce stress. If dancing is your thing, go ahead and do that instead. Engaging your body in physical exercise can additionally help you to focus on other things so that when you return to the problem, you can have a fresh perspective.
Laugh or listen to music
While this may sound a little whacky at first, laughing goes a long way toward helping to change your mood. Allowing yourself to laugh about something will help to counter the feelings of anger. Watch your favorite sitcom episode or an online clip.
Listening to your favorite music is also an option, as that usually elicits positive emotions which can help alleviate the negative feelings generated by anger. Allow yourself to feel other, more positive, emotions when anger is threatening to take over.
Attack the problem
If something comes up that frustrates you and generates feelings of anger, one way to deal with it is to focus on solving the problem head-on. If you need to write a letter to someone in authority to remedy the situation, do so (don’t send it immediately though, in case you write things in anger).
If you need to start a petition or organize a march or rally, do that. Acting by channeling your energies toward resolving the situation that is making you angry is a more constructive use of that emotion compared to stewing in it and doing nothing to change things.
Clearer communication and cognitive restructuring
Sometimes we need to allow the other person to clarify what they said or explain their actions. Our anger can lead us to frame situations in illogical or irrational ways that aren’t helpful. Remember that our reactions are the result of the past and past injuries we’ve experienced. Allowing people to explain their side and being able to frame our statements in ways that facilitate dialogue are helpful approaches to dealing with anger.
For instance, if your spouse does something annoying, a rational approach would be to address what they’ve done and frame your words using “I” statements, instead of “You,” which often causes others to feel attacked This helps you to address this particular instance without lumping it in with anything else, as well as allowing them to respond in a non-defensive way.
Rather than saying, “You don’t care about me or this family”, or “Why don’t you clean up after yourself? You’re such a slob!”, it may be more constructive to say, “I feel alone when it comes to contributing to the flourishing of this family” or, “I didn’t like how you left your hair in the drain after you shaved. It made me feel like you don’t care about our shared space.” The latter help you communicate your feelings in a non-aggressive way while allowing the other person to respond without getting defensive.
We also need to challenge ourselves when we jump to conclusions or generalize. If you make a mistake, rather than getting angry with yourself and saying, “I’m such a failure!” it’s more helpful to point out, “I made a mistake. I’ll know better and do better next time”. Being gentle isn’t only about other people – sometimes we need to be gentle and less angry with ourselves as well.
Consider Anger Management Therapy
Sometimes anger can get overwhelming and lead to tragic results. If you find that these techniques aren’t helping you to control your anger and deal with it more positively, it makes sense to consider going for therapy. A trained therapist can help you delve into the origins of your anger and help you with techniques to curb your anger and rebuild your relationships.
A word spoken in anger can destroy what you’ve built, be it work or personal accomplishments. You owe it to yourself to get your anger in control so that you can lead a life of flourishing and being a blessing for others that God intended for you.
“Lioness”, Courtesy of 263582, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Shouting Match”, Courtesy of OpenClipart-Vectors, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Prayer”, Courtesy of CJMM, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Heart and Cross”, Courtesy of congerdesign, Pixabay.com, CC0 License