Do you ever lash out in anger? Are you surprised when anger bubbles up and lashes out at a loved one unexpectedly?
Everyone gets angry sometimes—and some have an anger problem. Anger is often considered a “negative” or “bad” emotion, which we have been taught to suppress and push aside. After all, if we let anger get the best of us, our reactions can lead to negative consequences or hurt ourselves or others. However, to control anger, one must understand it and learn not just to control angry outbursts but to emotionally regulate emotions so that you can restrain yourself and express it in healthy ways.
Lashing Out in Anger—Why the Reaction?
For example, you’re sitting in a meeting at work and your co-worker just “threw you under the bus” again, even though the reason they didn’t get their work done was not your fault. You are fed up, and your anger boils over.
Before you can stop yourself, you call them out in front of everyone and let them know exactly what you think of them, their work ethic, and even include some rather colorful language in your response. After dumping the anger you feel better, but the slack-jaws and wide-eyes plastered on everyone else’s faces lets you know right away that this wasn’t the best way to address your anger.
Usually, the cause of our anger is the result of other underlying issues. Going back to our previous example, looking deeper into the anger, we might discover that we're no longer willing to tolerate the continual blame by the co-worker whenever they procrastinate and don’t get their work completed on time. It's justified to be upset, yet we need to learn how to express our emotions in productive ways.
Related reading: "How to Deal with Anger Effectively."
Effective Ways to Manage Anger
There are several helpful ways to process and control our anger productively. The most efficient calming is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which then produces a calm and relaxed feeling, reduces anxiety and stress, uplifts mood, and reduces blood pressure.
The following strategies help to regulate your nervous system and calm anger.
- Mindfulness or short meditation. Close your eyes, slow your breathing, and allow yourself to calm down while systematically releasing tension in your body. As you breath, visualize yourself some place soothing like your favorite fishing hole, a beach, or in the arms of your loved one.
- Breathe deeply while you count to ten. In situations where it’s an inappropriate time to air your feelings, this method is useful until you can further explore the cause of your anger. (You’ve probably heard about this technique dozens of times, right? Seem too simple? This tool works, but not if you don’t use it! Yep, brain science supports this method.)
- Write down what you are feeling. Take a moment to write about your angry feelings, e.g., write an uncensored letter to the person who triggered your anger. Afterward, re-read the letter and look for clues to what experiences or vulnerable feelings like hurt or humiliation caused you to protect yourself through anger. (Then shred or burn the letter!) This mind dump empties and slows down your feelings.
- Use a stress reliever. Squeezing stress balls or fidget toys to relieve built-up tension can do wonders to alleviate anger, as you self-soothe. The action of opening and closing your fist allows a letting-go process while also relieving anxiety. After you calm down, mentally rehearse a successful resolution with the person who triggered your anger and imagine an outcome that would be ideal.
- Take a timeout: It is okay to walk away from a situation that is making you feel angry and do a bit of self-reflection before responding. Walk outside and set your gaze on the beauty of the mountains, or feel the warmth of the sun, or listen to the breeze passing through the trees. This kind of focused attention engages the frontal cortex and effectively causes charged emotions to diffuse.
- Being assertive: In certain cases, assertiveness can help put you in the driver's seat and reduce your anger. Using our example above, giving an assertive response to your co-worker would be to use an “I statement,” such as “I’m puzzled by what you said since I had my part of the project completed and submitted to you last week.” This reply now shifts things back to your co-worker, provides new information, and invites others to see the situation from a different perspective.
- Exercise: Exercising releases endorphins, which make us feel better and calms us down. This is one method that is backed by loads of science. You cannot exercise and stay angry. Try it!
No matter what route you choose, it’s also essential to determine the cause of your anger and critical knowing the difference between healthy and chronic stress. Getting curious and exploring the roots of your anger can help prevent angry outbursts in the future. And if your anger involves another person, let them know how and why their actions affected you (after you've calmed yourself!) Sometimes others may have no idea why their actions angered you. Together, come up with a plan how to respond differently in the future.
Take time to gain self-awareness and grow in emotional intelligence. Learning how to modulate your emotions before you lash out will increase connection and make your relationships healthier.
To get assistance and explore your anger and the emotions behind it with support, contact us at Heartmanity. Check out Heartmanity’s self-guided programs or contact us at (406) 577-2100.