Anger can be defined as feelings of annoyance, irritation, rage, hostility and/or displeasure. Although we often think of anger as a negative emotion, it is both natural and healthy. It can help us cope with life stressors, prevent unfair treatment, and communicate about how we feel. However, anger becomes problematic when we express it in unhealthy ways. Such methods of expressing anger are typically learned coping mechanisms and can therefore be unlearned and replaced with much healthier and more productive methods.
This is what anger management is all about: learning new and healthy ways to cope with our anger, so we able to express our feelings in a calm manner. Below are some anger management techniques to help guide us through tough, anger-provoking situations.
1) Take a break.
When a conversation is getting heated, or we feel like we are beginning to lose control, it is important to take ourselves out of the situation at hand. This allows us time to think about what has happened, and it helps us cope with our anger without hurting other people. It may also help us uncover why a situation is making us angry in the first place. We may realize that we are reacting to an incident from the past or that our anger is misplaced. Taking a break can also help us put our feelings into words. We can then talk about it, which can help prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future.
2) Brainstorm solutions.
After taking a break from an anger-provoking situation, it is important to identify how our anger, and the actions that stem from it, can be avoided in the future. For example, if an individual constantly fights with their partner because he/she is always talking about work, then a solution could be to designate 15 minutes for them to each talk about work. After this, they could move on to unrelated matters. Solutions such as these can prevent future fights and arguments, as well as outbursts of anger. Being solution-oriented can also prevent us from becoming increasingly angry.
3) Learn and practice breathing techniques.
Slow and deep breathing helps to calm our bodies by activating our parasympathetic nervous system and slowing our heart rate – the opposite of what happens when we are angry and feel provoked. Therefore, practicing these techniques can help counter the effects of anger.
Some breathing techniques include:
A) Breath counting: for this exercise, we count from one to five for each inhale/exhale. For example, we count “one” in our heads while we exhale, and then count “two” while we inhale. After reaching five, we begin again.
B) Deep abdominal breathing: this type of breathing activates our diaphragm. During inhales, our chest rises and our belly expands. While doing this, we can place one hand on our chest and the other on our belly, so we can feel our bodies react.
4) Find healthy ways to release anger.
There are many ways to release our anger without hurting other people. Some of these methods involve physical exercise. For example, one study demonstrated a correlation between self-reported exercise and anger in University students. Another study found that an aerobic exercise program reduced anger expression and aggressive behaviour in overweight children. A third study found that participating in rowing exercise (i.e., a type of cardiovascular exercise) was related to a reduction in the aggressive feelings of participants.
From these results, it seems that exercise – a form of energy release – helps individuals release feelings of anger and aggression, as well as prevent them. We can also release our anger by focusing on a hobby or project, such as painting, writing, singing, or dancing. Transferring our energy to tasks and hobbies that we enjoy can help us calm down and prevent us from acting out of anger.
5) Get sufficient sleep.
Sleep allows us to recharge from one day to the next. As such, sleep deprivation can significantly impact our mood and has been shown to increase anger. It is important to plan our days so that we are able to get a sufficient amount of sleep. This amount is 7 to 9 hours for young adults and adults and 7 to 8 hours for older adults.
Learning anger-management techniques can allow us to have healthier relationships. We can avoid hurting the ones we love, and become happier people in general. While we cannot change our coping mechanisms overnight, we may be able to adjust them one step at a time by using the tips above. Good luck!