How to Control Your Anger: Unlock 8 Simple Steps
The issue comes with when and how it is expressed. Anger is a natural response to injustice or bad behavior. Still, when it is poorly managed, it may blow up and cause unintended consequences in your personal relationships, work, and life quality.
In the words of the great philosopher Aristotle, “Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
Every day brings plenty of prospects that can result in you feeling anger. But when you give in to the negativity of this emotion and let it control your behavior, you are giving complete power over yourself to something outside you, which can leave you in very undesirable conditions after it has passed.
Why do we express anger?
According to Dr. Charles Spielberger, a psychologist with expertise in the study of anger, “Anger is a feeling that ranges in intensity from slight annoyance to rage and fury.”
It is an emotion we have all experienced at different points in our lives, even when we were babies. It affects all personalities, gender, and age groups. We might experience anger if we feel frustrated, attacked, deceived, or unfairly treated.
Researchers at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology determined that anger has been encoded into our brains over several thousands of years of evolution. Our innate need to defend ourselves from danger, compete for resources, and uphold social standards are all instincts that are a part of who we are.
Both external and internal factors have the potential to trigger anger. Your anger may be fueled by fear or brooding over personal issues or directed toward a particular person or situation (such as a canceled flight or a traffic jam). Anger can also be sparked by memories of painful or upsetting experiences and can be directed inward toward yourself.
Factors such as the environment in which you grew up, temperament, and personality type also strongly influence your predisposition to anger.
Everyone possesses an innate temperament type; the main types are choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic. A person with a melancholic personality is less prone to anger than one with a choleric disposition. Likewise, a person who grew up in a violent environment might be more inclined to get angry than someone who was brought up in a peaceful and loving one.
I have now established what anger entails and why we experience it. But why, then, is anger a necessary emotion?
Why is anger a necessary emotion?
The emotion of anger can be likened to a fire which can be used for beneficial purposes like cooking and warming ourselves, but when left unchecked, can get out of control and destroy lives and properties.
Understanding this dual nature of anger will help you know when to suppress and when to express it — within safe boundaries.
The purpose of anger can differ from person to person, so to be practical, let us quickly check what anger is to you.
Take a pause right now and think about the notable times when you found yourself really angry. Now ask yourself if being angry resulted in the outcome you were hoping to achieve. If you answered in the affirmative, then you can see that anger may be of positive value to you and that it can:
- Help you confront issues that are straining you
- Motivate you to stand up for yourself
- Spur you to take action against injustice
- Drive you to defend yourself in a dangerous situation
- Provide you opportunities for self-improvement
- Make you hold others accountable for their actions
However, we only obtain the value anger presents when we learn healthy ways to recognize, express, and manage it. When we do not, it can have negative consequences.
What is the cost of submitting to anger?
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” — Buddha.
Unhealthy bouts of anger — when you keep it suppressed for long periods, focus it inward, or explode in outrage — can wreak mayhem on your body. That is because anger results in certain physiological changes in a person inwardly and outwardly. In your body, your heart rate and blood pressure rise, your body temperature increases, and you might even get headaches.
Outwardly, you might begin to yell, curse out loud and engage in physical violence. This is obviously a problem as it can lead to several negative consequences, including:
- It increases the risks of both heart disease and stroke
- It weakens your immune system
- It raises your level of anxiety
- It can lead to the destruction of property and violent crimes
- It can cause financial and legal problems
- It can generate difficulties in your relationships
8 ways to overcome anger
The ability to effectively control your anger is quite a difficult task because your brain is wired in a way that drives you to act before considering the effects of your actions. This means that learning how to control your anger is not something you are born knowing how to do instinctually but a skill that has to be learned through a lot of work and practice.
Here are eight ways to control your anger and keep it under control.
Know when to express and when to suppress your anger
A significant step in effectively managing anger is identifying healthy ways to express your anger without losing control and knowing when to quash it so that you don’t act rashly. You don’t always have to express anger. Sometimes, suppressing it in that heated moment is the best option. This will give you time to respond more appropriately and prevent you from saying or doing things you will regret later.
However, be sure not to internalize the feeling and suppress it to the level where you just allow the issue to fester without addressing it. Once you’ve realized that your anger is valid, consciously express it in a way that will allow you to gain the value it has to give in that particular situation.
Explore your emotions
“When anger rises, think of the consequences.” — Confucius.
For example, when someone gives you hard-to-hear criticism, you may express anger because you’re ashamed. You try to convince yourself the other person is wrong for giving you negative feedback. I might comfort you in the short term because it keeps your humiliation in check. But recognizing the emotions causing you to feel this way can help you find the root of the problem you are feeling. Then, you can pursue the appropriate action.
Rather than strike out in anger when someone changes plans on you, and you are disappointed, you may describe how their change in plans makes you feel. You’re more likely to find a solution when you’re open about your emotions. In most cases, responding with fury just serves to alienate people.
Let me take you through a short exercise.
Right now, close your eyes and think of a time when you were really angry and probably let it get the best of you. Perhaps it was someone canceling dinner plans at the last moment. Now think of how you reacted to the situation and how it made you feel. Rather than lashing out in anger, if you had thought it through, you probably would not have taken the action you took. Now make a conscious decision to pause and think of the actions you will take whenever you’re agitated and angry, and make sure they are actions that will leave you a better person.
It often helps to take an instant and consider what emotions might be causing your anger. Anger often acts as a protective shield to help you avoid feeling big emotions like humiliation, unhappiness, and letdown.
Engage in humor
Humor can be a very effective tool in releasing tension. Sometimes, either or both of the angry parties are just being unreasonable. When you realize this and how unimportant some of the things you are angry about are, you will be able to calm down and avert the situation from unnecessarily escalating.
However, there are two things to note when using humor. First, don’t just “laugh off” the situation to avoid it. You still have to visit the root cause and address it. Second, don’t use harsh, sarcastic humor, as this might even worsen the situation.
The point of humor is not taking yourself too seriously and de-escalating an already tense situation. So ensure you put humor to good use in such situations.
Check yourself and identify your triggers.
Sometimes, anger might not necessarily be at the particular person or situation in which one is expressing it. It could be influenced by factors like illness, frustration, low self-esteem, and past experiences or trauma, making it just a transfer of aggression.
Other times it’s the environment or the kind of people you hang out with. Understand how these factors affect you so that you will be in a better position to avoid the triggers.
While you shouldn’t blame your lack of self-control on other people or outside factors, being aware of what makes you angry might help you make appropriate strategies to cope with the situation.
Visit the root of your anger.
It is often said that “there is no smoke without fire.” You must ensure that the issues that cause you to be angry are well addressed — especially if the anger is with someone you can’t avoid, like a co-worker, partner, family member, or friend.
Ask yourself, “what is really making me angry?” and determine the cause. This will enable you to identify the other feelings that anger might be masking, and help you communicate better, take constructive action and resolve the situations.
Practice empathy and compassion.
Imagine a scene where someone mistakenly bumps into you and spills a drink on your freshly-ironed shirt or blouse. That person might apologize, but at that moment, you’re very annoyed and might want to react harshly. Would it make a difference if you knew they just lost their job or because they’ve recently lost a loved one or someone is sick in their family? Naturally, if you knew that, you would react more calmly and probably overlook what they did.
In the case of someone annoying you, you could resist getting angry by simply thinking: “It’s not about me. They must be having a bad day.” This will allow you to give them some benefit of the doubt and not let their actions get the best of you.
We all have tough days, and although this doesn’t excuse us from behaving aggressively, it can still help us to cut one another some slack. When we relate with one another with empathy and compassion, we significantly reduce how often we get angry.
Talk to a friend or professional.
Talking through a problem or expressing your emotions to someone who makes you feel calmer could be beneficial. But it’s crucial to remember that ranting sometimes backfires.
Grumbling about all the apparent injustices you’ve experienced, whining about your boss, or listing all the reasons you don’t like someone could fuel the flames. It’s a frequent misperception that you must let off some steam to feel better.
Research shows that you don’t need to “get your anger out. For instance, smashing objects while you’re angry could make you angrier. Therefore, it’s crucial to apply this coping mechanism with care.
Similarly, if you plan to speak with a friend or specialist, be sure you’re working on finding a solution or lessening the problem.
There are also several helpful books on anger management that you can read. Importantly, make sure you pay intent attention and follow through on the required processes so you can get the most out of the available help.
To stem the raging tides of anger, you must learn to constantly practice forgiveness (I discussed forgiveness in-depth in a previous episode).
Saying “I forgive you” is one of the most challenging things to do because of how much pain an offense committed against one can bring. This is very understandable, but you can’t afford to hold on to that offense and allow it to control you through anger.
We are all imperfect people with different flaws, and finding ourselves in situations where we feel harmed is inevitable in our interactions. To ensure that you respond appropriately and heal, you have to forgive. By doing so, you will be able to avoid anger from controlling you and will be doing yourself the greater good.
You have a choice when it comes to how to control your anger
In the words of Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus, there is a space. In that space is our ability to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”
You will never be able to control most of the factors and situations that could cause you to be angry, but you need to be conscious of the fact that you can always choose how you respond.
Your attention should only be on what you can control, your response, as other things are simply beyond your control.
Before you have that explosive display of anger, whether verbally or physically, think of the consequences of your reaction and ask yourself at that moment if that is what you want. The situation that made you angry will pass, but whatever rash choice you’ve made in the heated moment of anger will have a lasting impact.
So, consciously take responsibility for your response and always realize that you can always choose not to allow anger to control you.
Where to Go From Here
I hope you found this short guide on how you control your anger useful. If you’re looking for more ideas on getting motivated and staying that way, check out the Passion Struck podcast and my episodes with behavior scientists Ayelet Fishbach, Katy Milkman, Astronaut Wendy Lawrence, NASCAR driver Jesse Iwuji, and Vice Admiral Sandy Stosz along with my over 80 solo episodes.
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