At some point in our lives most of us will have experienced anger. Rush hour travel, computer crashes and problematic relationships are all aspects of modern day living that can tip us over the edge. Yet, this powerful emotion is perfectly normal, just like feelings of happiness, fear and sadness and in most cases it stays within a natural and controlled range. In fact, anger is an integral aspect of our evolutionary make-up helping us to instinctively detect and respond to threatening situations, as well as acting as a powerful motivating force to change aspects of our lives that we are dissatisfied with. Given its part in keeping both body and mind ready for action, a number of physiological changes characterise anger, including faster heart beat, breathing rate and increases in temperature and perspiration.
However, anger can also be an emotion that can easily become out of control, causing both you and those around you considerable distress. In a survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation, 28% of adults said that they worry about how angry they sometimes feel and 32% have a friend or relative who has problems dealing their anger. While there are many ways of expressing this emotion, including explosive “seeing red” or suppressed “bottled up” anger, this level and intensity of emotion can lead to serious physical and mental health problems including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and lower immune system efficiency. However, by acknowledging you have an issue and by trying to understand anger and get the right help to start managing it, you have made a powerful and important first step to better health and happiness for both you and those around you.
How can I manage my anger – Is there anything I can do?
There are plenty of ways you can begin to deal more constructively with your anger. Taking small steps and with plenty of time and patience you will begin to see substantial changes in the way you react to stressful situations and in your happiness as a whole. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
1. Recognising and Dealing with the symptoms of anger
Knowing the physical signs of anger is an important first step. You might feel your heart beating faster, your body tensing and your breathing rate becoming quicker. These are the first signs that you should try and leave the stressful situation thus giving yourself a chance to cool down and reduce the impulse to lash out. Counting to 10 is also a useful technique, along with trying to slow down your breathing rate by breathing out for longer than you breathe in. These techniques will help relax you and help you think more clearly.
A more long term solution is exercise. Engaging in physical exercise is a fantastic way of not only releasing pent up frustration but will also reduce stress and improve your mood by releasing chemicals called endorphins which can lift your mood. It doesn’t have to be a gruelling body work out; it can be anything from running, to yoga and meditation. These activities can focus your mind away from the causes of anger, giving you time to think more clearly.
3. Healthy Diet and Plenty of Sleep
Food is a crucial aspect of maintaining positive mood. Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters are greatly influenced by our food intake and by eating regularly and healthy we can maintain positive mood which can substantially aid how we deal with the stresses of modern life. Similarly, avoid alcohol and drugs. While many of us turn to these substances to relieve tensions, they can in fact lower our inhibitions which we need to stop us acting unacceptably when we are angry. Getting enough sleep is also a crucial factor in being able to relax and maintain positive mood.
4. Express yourself
Expressing your feelings can be a fantastic way of releasing build up tension, increase mood and give you the space and time to think more clearly. You can express yourself in a variety of different ways such as painting or dancing or by simply writing about what is making you angry thus purging it from your mind. You might also find talking to your friends and family a useful tool to help you get a different perspective on the situation.
5. Different ways of thinking
Instead of dwelling on thoughts such as “It’s not fair!”, “You never listen to me” or “You always do that”, try and let these negative thoughts go. These types of thoughts will keep you focused on whatever it is that is making you feel angry and will increase your stress levels and your ability to lash out.
Can I get help from a professional?
The techniques and changes mentioned above will take patience and time and so you may feel you need support from a professional to help you deal with your anger. Your GP will have details on local anger management courses or counselling that could help you.
Alternatively, there are a wide range of private counselling therapists who can help with anger issues and employ a variety of different therapies to suit you. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is just one of these therapies and is commonly used in anger management. Cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on changing the way you think about certain situations and focuses not only on your past but importantly how to improve your coping mechanisms for the future.
Finally, when choosing a therapist make sure they are registered with a professional organisation such as the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and that the therapies on offer are right for you. Do your research and investigate what types of therapy are out there and whether you are comfortable participating in them.
Remember, remain hopeful! You have taken the first, most important step in overcoming your anger issues!