Techniques to deal with anger
On anger and its effects on us and our relationships
One way or the other, we’ve all been there with our partner, child, family member, coworker, neighbor, or even a stranger. There comes a moment in which logic disappears and before you know it you’ve gone into a tirade, you’re shouting a bitter comment, or you’re throwing something.
Such unfiltered reactions however are the preamble to escalations that leave a scar or at least a bitter memory in your relationship story with that person. Fast-forward a bit and the trigger might have escaped us but it is almost certain that we will be avoiding the person we were angry with either because of guilt, shame, disappointment or for some other reason related to discomfort. In other words, we will be disconnected and more often than not this does not act in favor of our wellbeing.
With time these moments fade, until the next time of course. And we go through this circle again… and again… and again. Chances are, if we continue to react to situations in these ways, we’ve become very “good” at it, and therefore also very quick. So we don’t even tend to think before we act angrily; we just do.
It is undisputable that anger is a human response. It’s a way to express where our boundaries are, what we are passionate about, and how important what we believe is to us. It is an energy that is supposed to make us do something in order to solve a problem. And as such it can be healthy and important for us to experience this emotion. However, anger is by no means a disciplinary tool or an effective communication method.
We need to keep in mind that we are dealing with a situation that we need to resolve and throwing a tantrum is one way to quickly shut down any possible negotiations. Therefore, it is not the best way to solve the problem because we need to keep communication channels open. Learning how to manage our anger is a skill that can be learned and we ought to prioritise how to train our mind in order to better manage our emotions in these situations. By doing so, we protect the quality of our relationships with others.
Techniques to avoid getting angry
First of all, there is no better technique than prevention. However you go about your day or regardless how you live your life, you will undoubtedly come across situations that affect your mood, or may even be stressful and upset you, which will raise your tension levels. So, it is imperative that you consciously have some “pit stops” during the day to buffer the strain.
What kind of breaks or brief “me-time” moments could replenish your batteries? Here are a few ideas: take a walk or have a shower, stop for a coffee and look around (phones away please!), chat with a loved one or go for a massage, do some exercise or meditate, have a quick nap, make a cup of tea… you get the idea. It has to be something personal to you in order to have that calming effect. The aim is to reduce your overall tension levels and keep them low. Then, when you come across a challenging situation you will have the reserves and the energy to respond more calmly.
And here is the golden tip to make this work – take “me-time” moments every day regardless of whether you think you need it. Trust me on this – many things during the day just creep up on us and when we notice, it is usually too late.
Visualizing how to calm down quickly is a great way to train your mind and is a very powerful technique. So put aside a few moments in your week during which you sit down and visualize a scenario that usually makes you angry. Play it out in your head and visualize different ways of responding. Choose your preferred response and keep rehearsing it until you “learn” it. With repetition over time, this technique can help you to overwrite your current automatic responses and thus become your new default reaction. As such, next time you get angry, this will be the response that comes into your mind first and will therefore be easier to act out.
If you know what situations are likely to put you under pressure and make you angry, then how about thinking about them in advance? Take a moment to problem solve and consider, “Is there anything I can do about this?” If yes, then make a plan (a list of actions) that can help you avoid ending up in this situation and make sure you do this. Alternatively,write down how to communicate what you feel about the situation to the other person involved. Now rewrite it as if you were the other person about to hear this. Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it brief and clear? Now you’re ready. The situation might just have been permanently resolved!
Oops… I’m angry and I know it, but I can still decide how to respond
Here we are… the moment has come again. But thankfully, you have good insight into how you are feeling right now and you are still debating about whether or not to snap. There is a way out: diffuse the situation. In order words, cool down and revisit it later. Here are a few ideas about how to do this:
- Consciously stop and take a few deep breaths followed by a loooong exhale. Try to focus on how your body moves as you breathe out.
- Use a stress reliever toy (or keep one in your pocket!) so you can fiddle with it as the situation unravels around you. Set up a pre-agreed plan with yourself, for example to squeeze it 5–8 times and then repeat it 3 times.
- Leave the situation, go for a walk or just to another room, do some quick but intensive exercise, play an instrument furiously, have a shower, watch TV… you get the idea.
- Instead of saying it out loud, how about writing it down first. Do you still feel like saying it out loud? If yes, then at least consider whether there is a way to rephrase it.
After doing one (or a combination of the above) do you still want to snap? If yes, keep reading!
A technique to use on the spot
So, let’s assume that none of the above techniques have worked this time and you are about to snap. Some of us have a millisecond of insight before we indulge in our tendency to anger. If you are one of these people then try asking yourself, “What would someone who loved themself do now? Would they shout, go into a tirade, [fill in the gap with any behaviour] so that they experience the negative feelings that come with being angry? Or would they protect this interaction because they value [add here what you value in your relationships with others – e.g., a positive atmosphere, friendship, etc.]? Can your values stop you acting out on impulse? Chances are they can!
A final thought
Mastering anger is a powerful skill that is unquestionably worth investing in because you can only gain from it in the course of your life. However, you do need to keep practicing and persevere with these techniques.
But, do remember one last thing… If you try applying these techniques but still find yourself having an angry interaction, then please remember that trying to justify your anger doesn’t serve you well so avoid it. But equally there is no need to make things worse by adding guilt or other negative emotions into the equation.
Remember that anger is a natural reaction and we are programmed to experience it. So if you sometimes indulge in anger, be kind to yourself and leave it at that. Perhaps move on by thinking, “I was overworked and I snapped, I’m not proud of it but I am working on it.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Patapia Tzotzoli founded My Psychology Clinic where she gained her reputation working as Clinical Psychologist with clients on one to one basis in London and worldwide via online therapy. She specialises in adult mental health and couples therapy. Studied at the universities of East London, Oxford and Cambridge and trained at the Institute of Psychiatry where she worked across world-renowned NHS Trusts.
Click here to book an online session or in person with Dr Patapia Tzotzoli at My Psychology Clinic.