Ever experience a time when something is so frustrating, irritating or bothersome to you that you feel like you're going to lose your cool? Ever been so angry about something that you reacted in a way that turned out to have negative consequences? ALL of us are susceptible to becoming angry so an expectation that we will stop being angry is not realistic, but rather it is what we do with our anger and how we handle it that it what is important and what can be changed.
Myths about Anger
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) identified a number of myths about anger that people often believe. As a result of believing these myths, people sometimes think there is nothing they can do to change how they manage their anger and therefore they don't even try. Let's dispel some of those myths and take back control of our own behavior!
- Myth #1: Anger is inherited. People often believe they are born angry because their parents also have anger problems and therefore there is nothing that can be done to change the fact they are angry. This is a myth, however, as research shows that anger is actually a learned behavior and therefore can also be un-learned. For instance, if you grew up in a family in which your parent was angry, this is something that was modeled for you and therefore you learned that anger was an acceptable way to manage situations. But just as easily as you learned to be angry, you can also learn other ways to handle your emotions more effectively.
- Myth #2: Anger leads to aggression. One of the misconceptions I often hear when discussing anger is that anger = aggression; however, this is one of the biggest myths about anger. As mentioned, everyone becomes angry but not everyone acts aggressively when they are angry. There are many effective, healthy coping skills that can be learned and used to manage anger appropriately without aggression.
- Myth #3: Venting anger is helpful. There was a period of time when research showed that expressing anger by doing things such as beating pillows or screaming was an effective way to express this emotion. However, as more research has been completed over the years it has been determined that this approach to managing anger actually just reinforces the aggressive behavior, so it is no longer an effective approach. Interestingly, recently "smash rooms" have been popping up all over the place and they are marketing themselves as a "way to relieve stress" ... I think research would beg to differ!
Identifying triggers and cues
One of the most important parts of managing anger is first understanding what creates anger for you. These are called events or triggers. What triggers your anger? Traffic, your boss, a whiny child, rude customers, a very hot day... practically anything can be a trigger for your anger and everyone has different triggers. It's important for you to understand what causes you to feel angry so you are able to address the trigger. Something else that is very helpful in managing anger is identifying the cues you experience when you're angry. Do you find yourself balling up your fists, becoming sweaty, feeling hurt or engaging in hostile self-talk? If you can identify the cues that go along with your anger, you're more likely to be able to manage the anger appropriately and effectively.
Once you've spent some time identifying your triggers and cues, you can put your coping skills into practice.
- Time out: Just as it sounds, a time out is simply removing yourself from a situation to give yourself time to "cool down" and regroup. For example, if you've been dealing with a rude and disrespectful person for 30 minutes and notice yourself clenching your fists and becoming sweaty, use those cues to remove yourself from the situation before you act out negatively.
- Distraction: Sometimes it may be hard to actually remove yourself from a situation, such as in a meeting with your irritating boss, so you may have to focus on distracting yourself in these situations. Focus on counting backwards from 10, doing some deep breathing exercises or focus on what another person is talking about.
- Relaxation: Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and other forms of relaxation are good ways to manage anger in the moment and also as a preventative measure against becoming immediately angry in certain situations. Practicing these skills even when you're already calm will help them to become second nature and therefore can be easily accessed during a time when you're feeling angry.
- Change your thinking: Sometimes it's simply our negative and irrational thinking that's getting in the way of our ability to manage our anger effectively. Working at challenging negative and irrational thoughts can in turn change your behavior. For example, if your thought is "my boss is stupid" that in turn may cause you to feel angry and then may cause you to act out aggressively. If you can re-frame the negative thought that your boss is stupid and instead think, "my boss is doing the best he can with all of the challenges he faces as the boss" your feeling and behavior may change as a result.
While I hope this has been a helpful insight in to the idea of anger management, there is really so much more to it that goes well beyond what can be discussed in a blog post! If you're struggling to manage your anger effectively, don't hesitate to contact me to discuss this further.