Anger Management Strategies that Work

angerYou’re in the grocery store, and someone nearly bumps into you with their cart. Later, while driving down the highway, someone in a big SUV cuts you off and nearly causes an accident. Then, when you get back to the office, your computer is causing you problems—it just won’t do what you want it to do.

Do you spend the rest of the afternoon fuming, thinking about how people really ought to watch where they’re going—or do you let it go? Do you race to catch up to the reckless driver and try to cut him off or shake your fist at him—or do you lay back in your seat and think, “I’m thankful I didn’t get into an accident!”? Do you pound your fists on your desk and contemplate throwing your computer across the room—or do you take a few deep breaths and try to find someone to help you figure out the problem?

These might seem like silly examples, but how you choose to respond to your anger has a big effect on every aspect of your life—and how you feel while you’re living it.

Anger is a completely natural response, and everyone experiences anger from time to time. In some situations, anger can have positive effects. It spurs us to take action and change an unsatisfying situation, and it helps us fight the injustices we see in the world. All great social movements started with a seed of anger; someone saw something that needed changing, and their anger over the mistreatment of others helped them take the first steps toward liberation. But when we find ourselves brimming with anger on a regular basis, it can have seriously negative effects—on our health, our relationships, and our quality of life.

The goal here isn’t to never get angry. The key to anger management is understanding when you’re angry and how to express that anger in a healthy way. Lashing out, holding it all in, stewing over it, or acting out in passive-aggressive ways that allow you to seek revenge with a veneer of niceness are allunhealthy ways of dealing with your anger.

You can have too much or too little anger, and both cause problems.

Too Much Anger: A Life of Frustration

 Some people have too much anger. Or, more accurately, they anger very easily and, once they’re angry, they have a limited number of resources for expressing that anger or letting it go. Almost anyone would feel a surge of overwhelming anger if their house got broken into. On the other hand, not many people would throw their computer across the room because their e-mail wouldn’t work or give a close friend the silent treatment for a week because of canceled plans. If you’re consistently pessimistic, critical, frustrated, lashing out, cursing, or shutting others out in an attempt to avoid anger, odds are you’re one of those who angers easily.

Research has shown that some people are born with a lower frustration tolerance. From a very early age they’re easily irritated and very touchy. Others are raised in an environment that is chaotic, abusive, or lacking in emotional communication. They were never taught how to deal with their anger appropriately. Whatever the reason, some people really are just more likely to anger over any and every annoyance, inconvenience, injustice, etc. than others. People who have trouble controlling their anger aren’t always prone to angry outbursts, either. Anger can also come out as moodiness, sulking, talking behind other’s backs, and shutting down.

Here are some unhealthy ways people deal with an overabundance of anger:

  • Watching too much TV, substance abuse, binge eating, and other “numbing out” activities.
  • Harshly criticizing others.
  • Giving the “silent treatment.”
  • Working overtime.
  • Replaying the event that triggered the anger over and over in their head.
  • Spending a lot of time in “revenge fantasies.”
  • Cursing.
  • Exploding on others.
  • Passive-aggressive behavior in which they get back at the object of their anger while swearing up and down they’re not angry.

So, if angering too easily isn’t determined by being a “hothead” or blowing up all the time, how do you know if you anger too easily?

People who anger easily tend to focus on the negatives in a situation—all the reasons they feel like they’re being disrespected, mistreated, or picked-on—even if these slights are imagined.

If someone cuts them off, they focus on the fact that the other driver did that to them instead of seeing that there are multiple sides to every story. It could be that the other driver didn’t see them or that they simply made a mistake, but someone with anger control issues won’t even let those possibilities cross their mind; they often think, “They’re doing it to me, not near me.”

A friend may cancel plans because they have an important project to tackle, but a person with anger control issues hears, “I can’t hang out with you because I don’t respect you or value our friendship.” This focusing on the negatives and even imagining slights when there are none gets the person angry at every turn.

A person with anger control issues also has a tendency to have really rigid rules about what is and is not acceptable to them. We all need to have values and boundaries, but we also need to cut others some slack. No one is perfect, and no one is going to live up to our expectations all the time. If you find yourself getting angry or frustrated with people for making one or two mistakes or not following your rules to the letter, you might have anger control problems.

So what can you do?

There are a number of healthy ways to express and deal with your anger. If you have trouble with too much anger, it’s important to focus on your thoughts. If something is worth sharing with another person, it ishealthy to share it—in a healthy way. But if you find yourself angering easily, your frustrations could be in need of a perspective shift.

Ever gotten angry one day and then felt guilty about it the next? When we look back and see ourselves overreacting again and again, it’s time to rethink why we’re hanging on so tight to our way. Here are some simple ways you can start putting your anger in perspective:

  • Look at the other side. When you’re really mad, looking at the situation from the other person’s point of view may be the last thing you want to do, but offering some understanding can help you get a different perspective and maybe not get so mad. Letting go of that thinking and imagining the possibility that there is another way to look at things can go a long way toward bringing your raging anger down to a mild frustration—or even help you see that it’s not worth being angry at all.
  • Would it stand up in court? Ask yourself if there is any evidence to prove that the situation really is the way you think it is. Can you prove that the driver who cut you off did it on purpose? Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your friend didn’t return your phone call because they don’t respect your friendship? In court, you can’t convict on “circumstantial” evidence. If you stop convicting everyone in anger court on imagined proof, you won’t find yourself feeling slighted so often.
  • Do I really want to do that? When you feel yourself getting angry and about to act out, ask yourself if that’s what you really want to do. Think about the outcome. If your way of dealing with anger is to numb out watching too much TV, ask yourself if you’ll feel any better. If you want to lash out at someone and seek revenge, think about what that might do to the relationship. Before acting, pause and just consider the possible results of whatever action you’re thinking of taking. If you don’t like what you see, do something else.
  • Is there an answer? Your anger isn’t always unjustified. Sometimes there really is a problem. The key is to seek a solution instead of a momentary quick-fix. Lashing out or masking your feelings may feel good in the moment, but they don’t solve the problem. Instead, look for a reasonable solution. If the answer doesn’t come right away, that’s okay. In the case of anger, it’s often best to let things calm down before acting anyway. Just resolve to seek a solution to your problem, and act on it when you do.

These are some simple answers, and they’re going to look a little different in every situation. The real key is to look for the positive factors that balance out the negative and learn to let go of the little stuff. Getting cut off in traffic isn’t worth ruining your whole drive—or your entire afternoon. When you can let stuff go and let others off the hook, you’re not getting walked-on. You’re letting yourself off the hook as well.

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