Basics of Anger Management
Anger is a feeling that is among the most frequently verbalized emotion for both children and adults. It’s a completely healthy and normal human emotion. However, how do we self-monitor ourselves and know when we are expressing our anger inappropriately? What strategies can we employ to better manage the verbal and physical expression of our anger?
Expression of Anger
According to the American Psychological Association, anger serves as a natural adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger; therefore, is necessary to our survival. However, we cannot simply lash out at every person, object, or situation we come across that angers us. Workplace codes of conduct, laws, social norms, and common sense place firm limits on how far our anger can take us.
People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. Three most often cited approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming as follows:
Expressing —your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear and talk about what your needs are and how to get them met, without physically and/or verbally hurting others. Being assertive does not mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of others while expressing your thoughts and feelings.
Anger can also be suppressed and then converted, sublimated, or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive and not hurtful of yourself or others. The primary aim is to inhibit or bury your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger with this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward—on yourself. Several decades of research by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association have demonstrated that anger turned inward may lead to hypertension, high blood pressure, and depression, among many other outcomes.
Calming —and monitoring ourselves throughout the process is fully possible for both adults and children. This means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, possibly removing yourself from the situation or source of anger, and letting your feelings of anger deescalate. Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery can help calm down angry feelings. Here are some simple steps you can try:
Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest typically has less of an effect.
Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as “relax,” “take it easy.” Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.
Use imagery: visualize a relaxing experience from either your memory or your imagination, perhaps a recent calming vacation or a pleasant memory from your childhood.
Non-strenuous, slow, yoga-like exercise can relax your muscles and make your feel much calmer.
Meditation is also known to have calming effects.
Practice one or more of these techniques in situations where you feel that you may not be able to express you anger appropriately.
Do you need help such as counseling? If you feel and believe that your anger is out of control—whether several incidents within a period of time, or a specific time at home or work each year (i.e., anniversaries), or simply put, even just from one incident, you may consider counseling to learn how to better manage your anger. A licensed mental health professional such as the counselors at the UCSF Faculty and Staff Assistance Program can work with you in developing a range of techniques for changing your thinking and your behavior. When you speak to a prospective counselor, tell them that you have concerns and problems with anger or perhaps that others may also have difficulties with your anger. Tell the counselor that you want to work on better managing your anger and ask how they can help you.
Davis, M., McKay, M., Eshelman, E. R, The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (5th Ed.), Oakland, CA, New Harbinger Publications, 2000.
McKay, M., Fanning, P., Paleg, K., Landis, D., When Anger Hurts Your Kids: A Parent’s Guide, Oakland, CA, New Harbinger Press, 1996.
McKay, M., Rogers, P. D., McKay, J., When Anger Hurts: Quieting the Storm Within, Oakland, CA, New Harbinger Press, 1989.