Updated: Mar 31
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
No matter the situation that is leading you to feel angry, it’s important to know that there are things you can do that can help you feel more in control of your anger- rather than it controlling you. Read on for some tips and ideas. Try one or more to see what works best.
Learning to recognize the warning signs of anger- how your body feels, the physical reactions that are occurring, and what you’re thinking to yourself at the moment- can help you give you a head start at trying to manage yourself before things escalate.
For example, do you find you are clenching your fists or your jaw? Are your eyebrows scrunched? Are you sweating or do you feel hot? Is your voice raised? These could all be signs that you are starting to get angry and may be a good time to try to find ways to calm down.
Figure out your triggers
Just as building self-awareness is important, so is being about to identify your triggers. Does having difficult conversations with your family in the evening right before bed after a long day of work or providing childcare or eldercare, or other responsibilities result in more frustrated responses since your patience is already running thin? Could it help to have an intense conversation with a loved one at a time when you both are feeling well-rested - perhaps on the weekend if that is when you are more prone to have an opportunity to relax and if the matter is non-urgent?
Trying a time period when you are both less stressed may allow you to have a more productive discussion. In addition, perhaps setting boundaries where you minimize time with people who set you off or aggravate you - or maybe saying which topics you would like to avoid or minimize if it makes you uncomfortable - could help reduce your exposure to these stressors.
Take a break
Separate yourself from the situation or interaction that is upsetting you so you can get some perspective. Having some extra space to reflect and think about the situation may allow you to come up with another response or lead to a less strained interaction. Return to finish the conversation when you are feeling calmer and see if it makes a difference.
Getting much-needed space will not only enable you to have a more productive conversation since you’ll be expressing your anger when you’re calm, but it could also lead to a more positive outcome.
Practice deep breathing where you breathe in for a few seconds, pause, and then breathe out for another few seconds. If it helps to have a visualization, imagine a box where you breathe in as you go along the top width of the box, pause as you go down the length of the box, exhale as you go through the bottom width of the box, and pause again before getting back up to the top of the box.
This visual - called box breathing - may help you to stay on track if you find that you are breathing in and out too rapidly. Slowing down your breathing rate may help ease the other physical reactions you may be experiencing as well (e.g. clenched jaw and fists).
Progressive muscle relaxation
Start at the bottom (e.g. your feet) or the top (e.g. your head) and practice tensing the muscles you can control for a few seconds and then relaxing them. Go through each muscle group (within your abilities) and work your way up or down, depending on which direction you started with. You will likely feel more relaxed at the end as you feel your body tension dissipate.
There is a wide range of examples of how to do a progressive muscle relaxation exercise on the internet- you might be surprised at what you’ll find from a simple Google search!
Meditation is when you try to sit quietly and reduce the stimuli around you so you can focus on your inner thoughts and feelings. It can help to put on some relaxing music, scented candles, or an essential oil diffuser, and sit in a relaxed posture. It may feel strange trying this for the first time but it often gets easier with practice.
If you find your mind wandering, that’s normal, and it may help to acknowledge those thoughts briefly and then try to re-focus on your meditation. Use a guided meditation sound clip if that helps- there are endless options on the internet and even phone applications that can take you through the process.
Finding the motivation to do exercise- whether that’s going for a walk, doing yoga, using weights, or some other type of exercise (perhaps punching a punching bag could be very relevant here!)- can not only be helpful from a health perspective but it is also an excellent way of releasing tension and focusing on another activity that may help to release your anger.
Think about your happy place. Is it a beach setting where you can feel the sand between your toes, hear the waves coming to shore, and smell the saltwater? Or, is it a peaceful forest where you can see a beautiful landscape and hear the wind whistling between the trees? Could it simply be sitting on your deck or balcony or comfy chair and enjoying a couple of tea or coffee while you watch the sunrise or sunset or see the snowfall?
Whatever it is, think about this happy place in a way that engages all of your senses. This will help it feel more realistic to you as you use a visualization exercise to calm yourself.
Ground yourself -- sight, sound, touch, smell, taste
Sometimes, when we feel out of control, it can be helpful to observe what is happening around us as a way of bringing ourselves back to the present and focusing on something external to help our internal state settle down.
For example, by focusing your gaze on a focal point in front of you (maybe a colourful cushion or the scenery outside the window), listening to a key sound you can hear (the hum of the fridge, the overhead fan, etc.), or touching something comforting (a fuzzy blanket or pillow) are all scenarios where you use your different senses as a way of focusing on the things around you and reeling yourself in when your anger is heightened.
Use a Mantra
“Stay calm”. “I can get through this”, “I’m in control”, etc. are all examples of mantras or short phrases you can say to yourself as a way to help you calm down.
Try out “I” statements
Using “I” statements in your discussions can help you convey your frustrations and anger in a way that the person you are speaking to might be in a better position to hear and respond to.
Focus on what’s underneath the anger
Sadness. Embarrassment. Disappointment. Guilt. These are all types of feelings you might be experiencing in tandem with your anger. Learning to identify what these feelings are may help you to dig deeper beyond the anger to realize what else is going on with you and if there are other factors at play.
Perhaps it’s not that you’re really angry with your family member for canceling plans with you but you are sad that you haven’t had as much time together as you would really like. Or maybe your anger towards a colleague for not contributing equally to a group work task is underlined by feeling underappreciated and undervalued in your workplace and feeling guilty about not creating healthy boundaries in advance.
Think about the situation you’re in and whether there are any other emotions that could be linked to your anger or that may be bubbling just below the surface. This might allow you to redirect your anger to the other deeper feelings inside of you.
Think of some statements that will help you cope during times when your anger feels out of control. For example, you can say such statements as: “I know how to calm myself down when I feel out of control”. “I can communicate better with others when I am not as upset”. “I can handle my anger - my anger doesn’t have power over me”. Find statements that are true to you that enable you to feel calmer and grounded.
Remember- you don’t have to try all of these at the same time. Test out one that stands out to you and then take it from there. Attempts at managing your anger is the first step towards improving your overall mental health and well being. All the best on your journey ahead!
Wishing you well on your mental health journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT
Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
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