Are you troubled by your (chronic) anger or do you have a short fuse? Perhaps you feel your anger is justified?
Either way, the angry person ultimately pays a heavy price in terms of health and relationships. It’s never too late to learn how to tame your temper.
Click the button below to download your Quick-Fire Guide to Managing Anger as a PDF to print and keep as a reference OR carry on reading below.
Anger is a vital signal
Firstly, it's important to say that anger outbursts are not a reflection of who you are, but rather a clear sign that your life is currently out of balance. You may feel that you don’t have a proper handle on things, or that you are not properly acknowledged by others? Chronic anger can also be a symptom of untreated trauma – some (perhaps even long forgotten) incident that happened to you in the past.
Many over-stretched modern lives lead to stress, irritability, knee-jerk responses and aggressive behaviour.
Anger is a primal instinct, programmed to keep us safe when an emotional need is compromised or threatened. In that way, it's vital.
When it has morphed into an unpredictable and ugly beast that controls you, rather than you controlling it, it’s time to step in. Luckily once recognised, it can be treated and resolved quickly and effectively.
7 practical ways to tame the tiger and manage your anger
1. Train your breath to calm you down
Choose your daily 10-minute practice.
- Use box breathing. Imagine a square and follow the lines around the perimeter. Breathe in to the count of 4, hold to the count of 4, breathe out to the count of 4, hold to the count of 4 – then continue this rhythm.
- Practice the ‘7/11’ breath, whereby you breathe in for 7 seconds, and out for 11 seconds. You can also do 5/7 but always make sure that you follow a pattern and the out-breath is always a bit longer than the in-breath.
2. Take daily aerobic exercise
Take daily aerobic exercise to burn off the stress. It doesn't have to be a 'sport' – your exercise could be a walk, skipping or yoga.
3. Cut down immediately on sugar and coffee
Caffeine and sugar can give us a quick burst of energy – but after the high, comes the crash and this is when we can feel irritable and lash out without meaning to.
4. Reduce digital screen time
More and more research is being done on the effects of screens and our devices. The simple answer is: turn off devices well before bedtime.
5. Get enough sleep
Sleep is incredibly important to your emotional and physical health. Here are some tips once you've finished this piece to help you sleep better.
6. Wear an elastic band around your wrist.
I use this a lot with children – but it works equally well with adults. Every time an angry thought rears its ugly head, pull the elastic band and say “no”. It's a literal way to 'snap out of it' and brings your awareness to the thought so that you can challenge it – is it reasonable anger, or are you feeling tired, hungry or are your emotional needs being compromised?
7. Take a ‘time out’ of 20 minutes when your anger takes over the show.
Avoid any conversation when you are angry. It’ll take at least 20 minutes to get your intelligence back on-line.
And some more longer term strategies...
8. Recognise the physiological signature tune of your anger
Notice how it manifests itself in your body and learn to catch it earlier and earlier, before it wreaks havoc.
9. Look for the pattern in the weave of your life
By highlighting the feelings preceding an outburst, you start pulling at the thread of the out-dated, and now unhelpful, pattern. When have you felt it before? What does it remind you of? Ask yourself what the feeling is when you don’t like someone.
10. Muster the courage to be vulnerable
Once you see that the pattern is no more than a thread of vulnerability in a bigger tapestry – a repeated sense of a need not being met – you can see that your anger does not need to define you.
You're not that anger and you can become skilful at communicating your feelings and passions in less emotional ways, by turning down the pain first.
Take time out to make a heartfelt connection with your particular vulnerability.
Allow it to be there, however much it hurts, and go back to it from time to time if you still fly off the handle too often.
- For some people, it helps to get out a photo of themselves as a child and be reminded of that youthful innocence; to connect with it and be moved by it.
- It is never too late to make room for your own pain, to acknowledge it and experience how you can take the sting out of it, by allowing yourself that little bit of space.
11. Create Balance
No amount of willpower or acknowledgement of pain works if you don’t respect the rhythm of life and create balance for your self and your children. Create time to honour your emotional needs.
12. Develop an awareness of other people’s point of view
Even if only as an intellectual exercise, it’ll increase your intelligence and efficacy in all areas of your life.
Write down 5 things you're grateful for each day, and you will rewire your brain. I've seen people's lives transformed by this one exercise – try it.
Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based between Woodchurch (Ashford), Kent and the Elysian Centre in Rye, East Sussex.
Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.