Close your eyes and think about a time when you became very angry. Notice your thoughts at the time. Feel the rage, the shallow breathing, your heart racing, and the tension on your neck. What about the sweating, grinding of your teeth, the trembling on your hands, and ultimately yelling in someone’s face?
If you have experienced any of these sensations or behaviors, then you know what anger may feel like. You may also know the shame or even guilt that may arise shortly after our anger outbursts.
Anger is an emotion that is not linear and it manifests differently in each person. Many times anger also brings harmful feelings of shame or guilt shortly after we experience an anger outburst. Let’s discuss some of the potential roots of anger and the function of it, as well as a few tips to prevent or manage it in a more efficient way.
Where Does Anger Come From?
Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion. What that means, is that many times our anger is the response of underlying emotions such as sadness, embarrassment, anxiety, disappointment, grief, pain, stress, or fatigue. There are many more emotions that may be hidden under our anger and we may not even be aware of it.
Sometimes our emotions are so heavy to carry and we get so tired of “feeling” that we may become numb to them and in order to feel, we lash out to others. Although showing our frustration as anger might be the easier way out, it often takes a toll on our relationships.
What Is The Function Of Anger
Some people may use anger as a “protective mechanism” to keep others away. It allows them to avoid others or keep them at a certain distance for reasons such as fear of rejection or getting too close and the possibility of being at risk of abandonment.
Although most of the time anger is perceived as a bad emotion, anger is not always all that bad. In fact, anger is a normal and common emotion that we all feel. Better yet, it can be beneficial for us by encouraging us to stand up for injustices, it can help us set boundaries, and promote problem-solving skills under stressful situations. As long as we use it effectively.
Acknowledge Your Anger
Before we dive into learning potential ways to manage our anger, we first have to become aware of where it is coming from. Most of us cannot answer that question which leads us to believe that we do not have any control over our anger. What most of us do not know is that anger is often triggered from automatic thoughts. Automatic thoughts usually occur in response to the belief that we are being devalued or threatened in some way. These thoughts are common and we all experience them without even noticing.
But do not worry, before we will go over a technique that may help you catch these thoughts and challenge them. Let’s try finding a few coping strategies that might help you decrease the intense emotion called, anger.
Try taking deep and slow breaths. As you breathe in through your nose count to 5 and notice any tension within your body. Hold your breath along with the tension for 4 seconds. Slowly release your breath for 6 seconds as well as any tension within your body. Try this as many times as needed.
Keep Track Of Your Thoughts
Start by noticing where your anger stems from or what underlying emotion might be hidden beneath it. To do this, try keeping a thought record on a daily basis to notice any patterns in thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and explore potential alternate thoughts.
Begin by noting the following:
- The situation: Explain what happened (e.g. “a car cut me off on the freeway”)
- Thoughts: Note your thoughts at the time (e.g. “they purposely did it to upset me”)
- Emotions: Think about the emotions you felt (e.g. “I felt anger and frustration”)
- Behaviors: Note what your actions were (e.g. “I yelled uncontrollably”)
- Alternate thought: Brainstorm to find an alternate thought (e.g. “they could have done it by accident”)
Utilize Communication Skills
Many times anger may be prevented by effectively communicating our needs. When we are triggered by someone’s actions or hurtful comments, try being assertive, and use “I” statements to prevent miscommunication which often leads to anger. “I” statements are clear, direct, and allow us to express our thoughts and feelings. Here are a few examples of “I” statements:
- ”I feel frustrated when you do not listen to me” or “I really like it when you take the time to ask about my day”
- ”I feel worried when you do not call me for days” or “I really like it when you stay in contact with me”
Use Mindfulness or Grounding Techniques
Another helpful strategy that may help distract yourself and decrease some of the excess anger is known as mindfulness or grounding techniques. Try focusing on your five senses. Name 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can touch, 3 things that you can hear, 2 things that you smell, and 1 thing that you can taste. Then reflect on what were your thoughts or feelings during this exercise. Usually, it clears our minds and helps us gather our thoughts to handle situations in a more effective way.
You can also try holding ice on the palm of your hand for as long as you can. The goal is to shift your attention to the physical feeling on our hands and distract us from our anger. Try alternating hands until you are able to feel a bit calmer.
Attend Therapy or Anger Groups
Many of us need additional support which may be provided through individual or group therapy to learn additional ways to manage our anger. A common treatment to cope with anger is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which may be helpful in understanding the connection between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Overall, anger is a normal and common emotion that we all experience. However, it can be difficult to manage at times. Through awareness and a better understanding of our emotions, we may find just the right coping skills to help us better manage it.