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Learning to Deal with Anger

When was the last time you were angry?

I’m talking ANGRY angry. The kind where your ears get warm, your muscles tighten, and you feel like you want to explode.

If it’s taking you more than a minute to think about this I’m assuming you’re not a very angry person. Now, if you can think of 3 different situations that happened before noon today then… this article may provide some helpful information!

But before we dive in, I want you to know that you will never hear me say anger is bad.

Anger is a natural emotion, in fact I’m even going to say that it can be a good emotion. The trouble comes when you either aren’t aware of it or you struggle with being able to handle it.

Exploring Anger

Our automatic response to something unpleasant is typically anger.

If we look at this through the lens of history, we would see that anger helped us to protect what was ours. Whether that be our tribe, our possessions, or our land; it helped give us fuel to fight back.

Now however, most of us aren’t physically fighting to protect what’s ours. Although this may sometimes be the case, the more common triggering events include getting frustrated during a traffic jam or getting irritated with your children for not picking up the house before dinner.

These events are not typically threatening to our well being, but our physiological response is still the same.

Bodily Changes to Anger

Our physiological response is simply how our body is responding to triggering stimuli, some symptoms are easy to recognize while others aren’t as easy.

Some common physiological responses for anger can include:

  • Blood pressure rising

  • Heart rate increasing

  • Breath speeding up

  • Muscles tightening

  • Feeling a burst of energy (from neurotransmitter called catecholamine)

  • Face may flush from blood flow going to your limbs

Back in the day when our life was at stake, these physiological responses helped to keep us alive. What’s interesting is that even though our lives are not in danger nearly as much as they used to be, our bodily responses haven’t changed.

So now the anger that we would feel when someone was about to attack our tribe is the SAME exact anger we feel when someone cuts us off in traffic.

That’s a pretty intense feeling for a situation that’s so starkly different...

You may be thinking, “what in the world is Dr. Bone trying to get at?”

Let’s do a quick exercise.

If you are in a place by yourself, close your eyes and take a moment to think of a situation in the past that made you angry. It doesn’t have to be anything major; just something that didn’t rub you the right way.

Now, walk yourself through that situation. Who were you bothered by? What did they do that upset you? Allow yourself to feel the feelings of anger.

And then, start to notice the changes in your body.

Are you starting to get warm? Do you feel your hands slightly moving? Do you feel a tightening in your chest?

These are your very own physiological responses. And being able to recognize these can be the first step in learning to manage your anger.

Managing Your Anger

Figuring out how to manage something is typically about finding the patterns within systems.

Managing your diet is about finding what foods you need to eat, seeing what triggers you to eat something you shouldn’t, and learning how to replace the “bad” food with the “good” option.

Managing a business efficiently is about seeing where the systems are lacking, finding solutions for those faults, and tracking your progress along the way until it improves.

Managing your anger is the same way.

You recognize your bodily responses, replace those natural responses with something more calming, and then respond.

Just like with managing a business, this may take some trial and error to see what works best for you. And it will definitely take lots and lots of practice, but eventually you’ll find out what works best for you.

Let’s explore ways to manage your physiological responses as well as look at broad life changes that can help you manage it as well.

Physiological Techniques

When you notice your body changing to a stimulus that is making you angry try implementing one of the following to see if it helps you calm down:

  • Deep breathing:

    • When you’re angry, your breath becomes shortened. Try elongating those breaths and focus on breathing from your belly.

  • Use imagery:

    • Imagine a relaxing situation whether it’s a memory or a made up scenario

  • Try progressive muscle relaxation:

    • This is a technique where you tighten, hold, and then relax each muscle group. Try this by sitting down and start with your toes until you travel all the way up to your face. Hold each muscle group tense for 10 - 20 seconds.

Life Changes

  • Get active:

    • Not only can getting active help boost a lot of good neurotransmitters in your body but it can also be a great way to relieve stress

  • Relax:

    • Walking/sitting in nature more, meditating, reading a book, doing something you love, etc. Simply taking a few more moments for yourself to calm down can do wonders long term.

  • Take some things of your plate

    • Oftentimes when we’re overwhelmed with things to do we feel stressed. Stress is often the precursor to anger. The more stressed you are the less of a patience fuse you have.

  • Eliminate the triggers

    • If you know that something makes you angry try eliminating it or significantly reducing its presence in your life.

    • This may be a person, a show, driving in traffic, or even a pet. I’m not saying you need to avoid a person forever, but if it’s someone at work you can try to get to the office before them to avoid having to walk in together. If it’s traffic, you can leave earlier to beat the rush or try public transportation. If it’s a pet, you can try delegating some of the tasks to a partner or child. Or consider training to help them listen.

    • There’s often simple solutions when it comes to eliminating triggers, it’s just finding out what works best for you and your situation.

Express Anger in a Healthy Manner

Now that we’ve discussed ways to help control our anger and reduce it, let’s explore how we can actually go about expressing it when the time comes.

  1. Express your anger in an assertive, but not aggressive way.

  2. What are you feeling, what do you need, and how were you hurt by the given situation?

    • Oftentimes anger is a natural response that covers up underlying emotions. Learn to identify what those feelings are and express them.

3. By using “I” statements rather than “you” statements, you can ensure that the other person isn’t feeling attacked, and instead you both can focus on the situation at hand.

  • Do not use phrases like “you always do ____” or “you never do ____.” Instead try saying “I feel this way when _____ happens.”

4. Ensure that you are not trying to harm the other person with your words.

  • Avoid name-calling or bad mouthing.

5. Try to understand their perspective

  • There will typically be two sides to every story and sometimes the other person may not even realize that they did something to harm you.

  • Once you’ve expressed your anger, take time to really listen to their side.

6. Don’t be afraid to take a moment

  • If you notice yourself getting worked up, don’t be afraid to ask for some space. Just make sure that you do resolve the issue rather than allowing it to lay dormant until the next blow up.

And there you have it! I hope these tips help you on your journey to becoming an expert on handling your anger in a healthy way.

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