Everyone gets angry from time to time, even if it may not feel very nice. That’s because anger is a normal part of being human and the feelings and sensations that we understand as anger have evolved with us as a way to manage and overcome threats and difficulties.
This is one of the reasons why anger isn’t just a collection of feelings and emotions. Anger actually causes physical changes in your body that range from an increased heart rate and blood pressure to sweating and jaw clenching.
Recognising and controlling anger
For most people, anger is a temporary state in response to a threatening or stressful situation. Usually, with a ‘normal’ anger response, the feelings subside once the stressor that induced the anger is gone.
However, for some people, anger can become more than just a passing feeling, so much so that strong feelings of anger may persist long after the stressful situation has passed. The angry feelings may occur often enough, or are so intense, that the anger can feel like it has become part of a person’s character.
Understandably, this can cause problems. So how can you tell if anger is a problem?
When is anger a problem?
Anger is a problem if it happens often enough, or with such intensity, to have a damaging, long-term and / or noticeable effect on behaviour and general outlook.
When anger is out of control, it can affect quality of life, whether it’s your relationships, employment, general wellbeing or even physical health.
Intense anger can lead a person to doing things that they wouldn’t normally do. It might be ‘lashing out’ verbally at someone (even someone close), firing off angry texts or emails, driving recklessly, or engaging in physical intimidation or even violence.
If you are concerned that anger may be a problem then consider whether the angry behaviour is affecting your quality of life. Have you regretted any of your actions? Has your anger resulted in you becoming abusive or even physically violent? Have family members, friends or colleagues remarked about your actions? Or has your anger caused you problems with real consequences, such as legal action, fines, damage to social or personal relationships, or employment problems?
Whatever your situation, it is never ok to lose it and get to the point where your behaviour is abusive, violent or poses a risk to yourself or someone else.
To get on top of your anger means recognising that anger can be an intense feeling. You may feel that you have no control over your anger — but in actual fact you’re probably capable of a lot more control than you thought.
Controlling anger does not mean suppressing or ignoring the situation. Instead, getting on top of anger means acknowledging that yes, there are stressful and difficult situations, and that managing them relates to how you respond to them. The key to controlling anger is to minimise any damaging consequences, both to others and to yourself.
This is what is meant by the term anger management.
Anger and staying in control
It is an absolute and unavoidable fact that throughout life you will need to deal with stresses, worries, frustrations and many other situations where you feel threatened. A threat can be perceived as taking many forms: to your physical safety (someone pushes you), to your status (such as via an insult), to your ambition (someone is undermining you at work), etc.
It’s highly likely that you cannot prevent these situations from happening. What you can control, though, is how you respond to the situation that resulted in you feeling this way.
Admittedly, this can feel challenging in the heat of the moment.
This is where anger management strategies can be effective. The intention is not to suppress those feelings or try to ignore a threatening or frustrating situation. Rather, such strategies seek to modify the response to that situation, with the ultimate goal of reducing harm to you and those around you.
Here are some common anger management techniques to try if you notice you are feeling the warning signs of anger.
- Step away and disengage from the situation if you can.
- Use self-talk calming strategies. Tell yourself things like “I’ve got this”, “keep it cool”, “I’m not going to lose it”, “just relax for a moment”, “stay in control” and so forth.
- Try to steer clear of alcohol and drugs if you think they affect your outlook. Indeed, alcohol is a very common factor in violence.
- Get into a physical exercise routine. Not only is it good for your physical and mental health, it can also help you better manage feelings of anger and frustration. Exercise includes walking.
- Take up relaxation and mindfulness. Contrary to what you may believe, mindfulness does not involve incense and listening to New Age music. In fact, the benefits of mindfulness are being widely recognised, so much so that mindfulness is being adopted in places like schools, workplaces and the armed forces of several nations.
- Talk to a professional CAREinMIND counsellor about your anger. Counsellors will help you develop coping strategies to help you manage your anger. Counselling is free to people in northern, western and central Melbourne and is available 24/7.
It is important to recognise that anger may be a ‘learned’ behaviour. That is, a person’s environment and life experience may contribute to their attitude and understanding of their anger.
Some people may have been brought up in an environment where conflict and difficulty were dealt with through anger, intimidation or even violence. They may therefore believe that anger is ‘normal’ when it fact it may only have been so in a specific environment, such as at home.
Angry attitudes like this can also be accompanied by beliefs that may be more likely to lead to angry or aggressive behaviour. These might include a belief that control and authority is exerted through force or believing in the need to always ‘be tough’. Some people may feel that backing down from conflict or a fight (as compared to disengaging or talking it out) is a sign of weakness or shame. Such thought processes could lead to conflict and even violence.
There are many more ways to manage anger and stay in control of emotions that could otherwise lead to destructive or damaging behaviour. MensLine Australia also provides an excellent list of anger management tips and techniques for everyday use.
Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.