Next time, I will stay calm. I’ll do things better. I won’t say things I’ll regret. I really will walk away or hang up the phone before I get dramatic and make a fool of myself. I won’t hurt him or her again…
Sound familiar? If so, you might be one of the many of us who, despite good intentions and truly wanting to be nice, just can’t seem to stop triggering far too easily into anger.
Anger isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Rage, its out of control relative, is dangerous and another story. But anger, when used productively, helps us set boundaries, communicate how we feel, and move towards useful resolution.
So how can you stop your anger from being a blowout and make it productive?
[For a deeper look at what anger is and when it’s out of control, read our comprehensive Guide to Anger Management.]
How to stop your temper getting the better of you
1. Stop beating yourself up that you feel anger.
It can feel very disheartening when you drive away those you love with your temper, and easy to berate yourself. But putting yourself down over it leads to shame, which often drives us to repeat the very behaviour we are ashamed of.
Empower yourself instead by recognising that although your temper might be a problem, it’s not all that you are. Many people just like you have changed their patterns around their anger. You can too.
2. Listen to your body more than your mind.
The body triggers into signs of upset first. Blowouts are often a reaction to a perceived threat. So your mind may be saying ‘I can handle this’, but your body is going into right into fight or flight mode.
Don’t assume your physical warning signs will be the same as those of others. Many people do feel heat rise or their teeth clench, but if you personally find your mind goes numb and you feel blank right before you go off, then that’s what you need to learn to be alert for.
If this seems hard to spot, ask someone you love and trust (and sometimes argue with) to point out to you the next time you seem to be getting angry and ask you to check in with your physical sensations.
3. Practise creating gaps.
The secret to managing your temper really is in the art of learning to create space between realising you are triggered, and letting yourself react.The more seconds, minutes, or even days you can create to calm down and process, the less likely you’ll say illogical furious things.
Some people swear by focussing on their breath or counting to ten in their head. But if you are fairly certain that won’t happen for you, experiment with other ways.
For example, try picking something in the room to mono focus on, like a plant. Notice every detail for a moment – the colour of it’s pot, the shape of its leaves, the way the light in the room hits in.
Escape the situation entirely if you can. Excuse yourself from the phone and say you’ll call back later. Ask for a quick break to use the washroom. Or if it’s an email that has you raging, turn the computer off. Now.
And if you are always fighting with the same person, encourage them to encourage you to time out. Let them know how much it can help you respond more positively.
4. Then de-charge as much as possible.
Once you get away from the situation, work to take away the ‘charge’ from your upset.
Anger tends to be a snowball, layering on to the outside of a mass of other unexpressed annoyances. It’s the reason why anger is so often bigger than it should be. The more you can break down the buildup around your anger and get to what is really at the heart of it, the better.
Free-form journalling can help. Promise yourself to rip up what you write so that your unconscious feels safe then pour out things onto the page, not judging it for being outrageous. If anything from the past or even childhood comes out, let it. Or try writing a letter to the person you are furious with. Don’t send it!
If you have the time, try to keep journalling for a few days until you don’t feel so much emotion. You’d be surprised at how what you want to say to the other person changes entirely.
If you hate writing, you can try ranting out loud when nobody is around. Timing yourself can help – commit to five minutes of shouting about all the things that drive you crazy.
5. Harness the power of physical exertion.
If you don’t have much time to handle your anger before you have to go head to head with the other person, then see if you can even have a five-minute timeout, then get physical. This can help calm down the fight or flight response, lowering the adrenaline and nervousness so you can think again.
Speed walk around the block a few times, or lock your office door and dance furiously to music. Stomp your feet and shake your arms. Some people also swear by using a rolling pin or fists to bash a pillow for five minutes. But do stick to the pillow!
6. Face up to the real reason you are angry.
It’s good to get into the present about what is upsetting you so much. If there was no past between you and the person, and no known future, what is bothering you right here and now? Can you state it clearly in one sentence? Does it merit as much fury as you’ve been feeling?
Try to notice patterns. Have you been angry at others for the same thing many times? Is this maybe an old issue for you? Is there an incident in your past that might have triggered this pattern of anger? Is this anger even about the other person at all, really?
7. Melt it with mindfulness.
Sometimes we get really ‘angry’ because we are actually projecting onto another in an attempt to avoid what we are actually feeling.
So you might want to try the exact opposite of all of the above by finding a quiet space, sitting down quietly, and just letting yourself fully feel your anger.
Try not to judge your anger, just notice where it sits in your body. What is the sensation like? How is it affecting your shoulders, your stomach? Try breathing into your anger. Does it move or change in sensation? Some people find that by bringing this total mindfulness to their anger, it quickly transforms into something else that feels easier to manage, like sorrow or anxiety.
Should you turn to others when you are angry?
It’s important to first try breaking the charge of your anger before picking up the phone and calling a loved one or friend. Otherwise what often what happens is that you’ll transfer your anger to them for ‘not saying the right thing’, or you will pull them into the argument and make things even bigger and messier.
Don’t underestimate the power of an unbiased but supportive outsider when it comes to dealing with your anger. A coach or counsellor can do wonders for helping you see why you keep getting angry, what it might relate to from your past, and how you can make better choices and stop sabotaging your relationships with those you care about.
A counsellor or psychotherapist can also help you learn if your anger issues are a sign of other mental health challenges. This might include borderline personality disorder, childhood abuse, or low self-esteem.
Do you have a technique for managing anger you’d like to share? Do so below.