Stopping anger in its tracks
Learn strategies to manage anger and prevent behaviors and outcomes that can undermine well being and relationships.

By: Mind - Mental Health - 11/15/2018

Anger can be a productive and motivating force under the right circumstances, but it also can impede relationships, lead to violence, or impact your day-to-day sense of well being if left unchecked.  Learn strategies to manage anger and prevent behaviors and outcomes that can undermine well being and relationships.

Anger, although categorized as a "negative emotion," is part of being human and sometimes can be beneficial.  For example, it helps Operators and Enablers focus their attention and direct energy when threats are on the horizon.  Anger can motivate people to make tactical adjustments that will lead to enhanced performance.  For example, experiencing a failure or defeat might make you feel frustrated, but that can serve you well if it drives you to reach out for help or try new strategies.

Anger can also motivate spouses and family members to engage in problem solving and more effective communication.  For example, if spouses have a misunderstanding about who was responsible for picking up a child from daycare, the resulting anger and frustration can lead to efforts to create more proactive plans, support future efforts to communicate clearly, and in turn strengthen the relationship.

But when anger escalates, it can damage relationships, increase personal stress levels, and—at its most extreme—lead to physical injury for yourself or others.  Anger can take many forms, such as mild irritation, annoyance, grouchiness, furiousness, aggressiveness, and violence.  Aggression also takes many forms, from clenching your fists escalating all the way to violent behaviors that can harm things or people around you.  But there are strategies you can try and practice to help yourself and those you care about de-escalate the potentially harmful effects of anger.

Understand The Thoughts That Lead To Anger

The thoughts or interpretations you have about events in your life drive the emotions you feel, including anger and sadness.  Thoughts also drive the reactions you have—the behaviors you choose to engage in—and they can correspond to physiological changes in your body.  If you tend to feel emotions such as anger, frustration, irritation, or hostility frequently, it's likely you also tend to think others have violated your rights or caused you harm.

Sometimes your perceptions might be accurate.  But your perceptions might not always be correct, and they might drive anger that is unnecessary or unproductive.  Learn more about bringing awareness to the connection between events and your beliefs, emotions, and reactions so you can gain more control about testing your beliefs for accuracy.  You also can seek help from a psychologist or counselor who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Manage Your Physiology

Sometimes your thoughts drive you to feel aroused, angry, or aggressive.  Other times, your primitive bodily reactions signal your brain that you're experiencing anger when you actually aren't.  Physiological changes can happen consciously or without you even being aware.  For example, if you have troubled relationships with your mother-in-law or ex-spouse, you might feel your heart rate accelerate and your face feel hot the minute you see his or her name pop up on your phone.

Without realizing it, those changes in your body can signal to your brain that you should be angry or anxious, even if there's no real reason to feel that way.  You can learn strategies to disarm physiological responses that lead you down the wrong path.  Practice deep breathing or step away from the situation until you calm down, so you can maintain your composure.

Learn Your Triggers

There are situations and people in everyone's life that are likely to trigger anger.  Sometimes these triggers are connected to situations you see in the world that are inconsistent with your core beliefs and values, and other times they can be people with whom you've developed strained relationships.

Other times, the triggers involve being treated with disregard, being devalued, or experiencing negative impact on your self-esteem.  Whatever your triggers, it's important to learn what they are and then plan proactively for situations that can lead to negative consequences.  On the flip side, learn when anger helps and how to use it effectively to your advantage.

Blow It Off In Productive Ways

Some research suggests that aggression can escalate to violence when a person can't find productive means to express and resolve his or her emotions.  You can cope with your anger in different ways, but some can be helpful while others can be harmful.  If alcohol has been your go-to solution, use it in moderation.  Try other strategies such as listening to music, going for a run, working out, or playing a good hard game of your sport of choice to channel what you're feeling inside.

Own Up And Apologize When Your Anger Goes Too Far

If you end up feeling guilty after an interaction with your partner, it's possible anger infiltrated the conversation and made it go sour.  Owning up to mistakes and admitting faults—including the mistake of not properly expressing your feelings—is important to reaffirm trust and a sense of security in your relationship.  To effectively apologize, begin by admitting you messed up.

Then show you want to fix the situation and explain how you'll make things better.  Share your feelings about the situation, especially if you feel regret, shame, or embarrassment.

Next, spell out the reasons behind your actions to help your partner understand why things happened.  Express your intentions to repair—and not repeat—the mistake.  Finally, ask for forgiveness by committing to do better and rebuild trust together.

Get Help
From An Impartial Party

You might be inclined to ask family members or friends for advice or guidance about the anger in your life and relationships.  While this can be helpful, it's also important to be aware that those close to you likely have their own bias.  Sometimes they just want to be supportive and might not be willing or comfortable calling you out on what's wrong.

An outsider's perspective can bring clarity to how anger and similar emotions might be impacting your life and relationships.  Someone who isn't personally or emotionally involved in the situations at hand can help you see the chain of events that led to an anger-driven reaction and highlight points of intervention where you or your partner could have chosen different actions or responses.

An impartial party also can objectively say whether or not a particular anger-based response was appropriate for a given situation.  So talk with someone not involved.  Have a one-on-one discussion with a chaplain or a non-medical counselor.  Or go with your partner to a Military and Family Life counselor.

Be Assertive To Avert Anger

Being an assertive communicator can help ward off anger from entering a conversation.  Assertive communication enables you to express your thoughts and opinions while also maintaining respect for the person you're speaking with.  Assertiveness falls in the middle between being passive (just letting everything go and not sticking up for yourself) and aggressive (issuing directives and not being willing to consider other people's perspectives).

An assertive person earns the respect of others, has better self-esteem, and is an effective and diplomatic communicator.

Anger isn't an emotion you have to be ashamed of feeling.  When expressed or channeled in productive ways, anger can be helpful.  By practicing some of the strategies to regulate anger, Operators, Enablers, and their family members can reduce the potentially destructive impact of this powerful emotion.

Related Articles