What can I do to manage my anger?

Whether your anger is about what is happening now or something that happened in the past, it can make you do things that you will regret later. Therefore, it is important to learn to understand your anger and also some techniques to limit the chances of it coming out in a way that is damaging.

Learn your triggers

“I get angry when people try to tell me what to do, especially when I know they are right.”

To start recognising your triggers you might find it helpful to keep a diary or notes about the times you have felt angry. Think about the last time this happened:

  • What were the circumstances?
  • Did someone say or do something to trigger your anger?
  • How did you feel?
  • How did you behave?
  • How did you feel afterwards?

If you do this for a period of time, you will probably start to see patterns emerging. For example, you may be getting angry every time a senior male colleague tells you to do something. This could be because you had an unpleasant experience in the past with another male authority figure e.g. your father, or a previous boss. It may also be that you get angry each time you are in a situation that you have no control over.

Just recognising what is making you angry can sometimes be enough to help, and you may feel that it is something you can then work out for yourself. However, if you are finding it difficult to recognise your triggers, you may want to try talking to someone who is trained to help you understand your feelings and the reasons for them – see ‘Talking treatments’.

Look out for warning signs

It also helps if you learn to recognise the physical warning signs of anger.

You might feel:

  • The adrenaline rush in your body
  • Your heart is beating faster
  • You are breathing more quickly
  • Your body is becoming tense
  • Your feet are tapping
  • You are clenching your fists

Recognising these signs gives you the chance to think about how you want to react to a situation before doing anything. This can be very difficult if you feel angry, but it is possible to train yourself to pause before expressing your feelings.

It can be a good idea to ask yourself, “Am I so angry I can’t think?”, and, “Do I want to lash out and hit someone?”. If the answer to either of these is yes, then it may be best to walk away from a difficult situation and go away somewhere to calm down. This might allow you to let out the anger in a constructive way, for example through exercise, and somewhere where it will not alarm anyone or mean that you regret your actions later.

Try some calming techniques

There are many ways to relax and calm down, depending on what suits you and what is convenient at the time you are angry.

Some might be:

  • Breathing slowly – one technique is to breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and then relax as you breathe out.
  • Counting to 10 before you react – this gives you time to calm down so you can think more clearly.
  • Doing something creative – this can channel your energy and focus towards something else.
  • Listening to calming music – this can help change your mood and slow your physical and emotional reactions down.
  • Using a relaxation technique such as yoga or meditation.

“I lock myself away, count one elephant, two elephants up to four in my head whilst breathing in; hold my breath and do the same counting out. I also use this technique outside and it works wonders – no more losing my temper in shops or at work. I don’t think of anything but my breathing”

Learn to be assertive

It is important to remember that being excessively angry and aggressive can get in the way of communicating the reasons why you are angry. People stop listening to you and focus on your anger instead.

On the other hand, if you are able to express your anger by talking in an ‘assertive’ way about what has made you angry, this will produce better results for you. Being assertive means standing up for yourself, while still respecting other people and their opinions.

Talking about your anger assertively:

  • Makes communication easier
  • Stops tense situations getting out of control
  • Benefits your relationships and self-esteem
  • Helps to keep you physically and mentally well

If you are used to hiding your feelings, it will take time and effort to get into a habit of expressing anger in a non-aggressive way that explains why you are annoyed.

Tips for expressing yourself assertively

If you decide that you want to tell someone that a situation is making you angry, thinking about how you are going to do it might make this easier.

Here are some things you could try:

  • Think through beforehand what it is that you are angry about. Ask yourself what you want to happen. Is it enough just to explain what you are angry about or do you want something to change?
  • Breathe steadily – this will help you to keep calm.
  • Be specific. For example, say “I feel angry with you because…”. Using ‘I’ avoids blaming anyone, and the other person is less likely to feel attacked.
  • Listen to the other person’s response, and try to understand their point of view.
  • Treat the other person with courtesy.
  • Be prepared for the conversation to go wrong and try to spot when this is happening. If you feel yourself getting angry, you might want to come back to the conversation another time.

Following these tips will not mean you never get angry, but it should help you express your anger constructively and feel better about yourself. Assertiveness training classes may be available in your local area, either privately or run by your local council or adult education institution. Details of these and other classes should be available online or at your local library and there are several websites with more tips on them.

Look at your lifestyle

You may find that an improved diet or exercising more helps to reduce angry feelings.

Lack of certain nutrients can make you feel irritable and weak, and so a healthy diet is likely to help you feel more in control of your feelings. Exercise can increase your self-esteem and releases ‘feel good’ hormones, and is a good way to let out tension. It is more likely to be beneficial if it is something you enjoy doing. If you can do something outdoors, even better – just getting out into the fresh air for a walk can provide you with a sense of perspective and make you feel more grounded.

Lack of sleep can make you irritable and less able to contain your anger, so making sure you get enough of it to be able to think and function clearly is really important.

If you are finding the stresses of daily life are causing or worsening your anger, it might help you to look at ways of dealing with the causes of this in the long term.

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