Just like any other emotion, anger is a normal emotion. We all have felt anger, whether as a passing annoyance or as full-fledged rage. Traffic snarls, unhealthy workspace, bullies—we all have our triggers. The problem arises when anger reaches to the point of hostility, aggression and harmful behaviour. This sort of uncontrolled anger can take a toll on your health, work, relationships, and overall quality of life.
Understanding the role of the brain lays the foundation for anger management. Typically, anger activates this almond-shaped part of the brain called amygdala. This area is associated with emotions, particularly fear, anxiety, and anger. Aggression also reduces the functioning of the prefrontal cortex that helps us think logically before we act. So, an anger outburst, or aggressive behaviour can be understood as amygdala taking over the prefrontal cortex.
Knowing the impact of certain events can help you take control of your environment.
How can anger management help you?
The goal of anger management is not for you to never feel angry or suppress the emotion. The aim is to understand the underlying cause or message behind the anger and learn to express it in healthy ways without losing control.
Here are some actions you can take to manage your anger in the moment:
Take a break if things get too heated: If your anger starts to spiral out of control, remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes or for as long as it takes you to cool down. A few moments of quiet time might help you feel better prepared to handle what’s ahead without getting irritated or angry.
Think before you speak: In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say something you’ll later regret. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts before saying anything—and allow others involved in the situation to do the same.
Stretch or massage areas of tension: Your muscles tense up when you experience anger. Relaxing the tensed area might help you feel better. Try to roll your shoulders or gently massage your neck and scalp.
Slowly count to 10: Focus on the counting to let your rational mind catch up with your feelings. If you still feel out of control by the time you reach 10, start counting again. This can help slow down the override of your pre-frontal cortex by the amygdala.
Use humour to relieve tension: When things get heated, humour and playfulness can help you lighten the mood, reframe problems, and keep things in perspective. Try using a little lighthearted humour. It can allow you to get your point across without hurting other people’s feelings.
While these tips can help de-escalate a situation in the short-term, long-term anger management requires more work.
Explore the cause of your anger: Ask yourself what am I really angry about? It’s usually something small that we have exaggerated in our minds. Maybe a displacement—perhaps you were angry at your boss but took it out on your spouse. Or it could be masking other emotions of sadness, embarrassment, or guilt. Causes can be plenty, being mindful about real sources of frustration will only help you communicate better and use a helpful approach towards a resolution.
Know your trigger points: Knowing the impact of certain events can help you take control of your environment. You can do this by simply observing your routine and trying to identify activities, people, places, or situations that trigger irritable or angry feelings. When you identify your triggers, think about ways to avoid them, if possible. Try to view the situations differently, look for alternate perspectives so you do not feel the rage.
Explore helpful ways to deal with anger: When we are angry, we tend to focus on the problem instead of resolving the problem. Learning ways to resolve conflict will help you strengthen your relationships. Try to focus on the present moment, rather than going into the past and playing the blame game. Being able to forgive will help you get past the moment. Engaging in physical or leisure activity such as brisk walking, doodling, listening to music can help you keep your anger in check.
Stay calm by taking care of yourself: Taking care of your overall mental and physical wellbeing can help ease tension and diffuse the anger. If your stress levels are through the roof, you’re more likely to struggle controlling your temper. Try practising relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or deep breathing. You’ll feel calmer and more in control of your emotions.
Know when to seek professional help: If your anger still spirals out of control or is affecting your relationships you may need more help. You can be a part of an anger management class or support group. Therapy is another great way to explore the reasons behind your anger and identify triggers. Therapy can also provide you with a safe space to learn and practise management skills.
Train your brain using neurofeedback: Brain training helps you deal with anger in a different way. Instead of trying to manage anger, neurofeedback brain training directly targets the emotion of anger. It works by stabilising and calming certain areas of the brain that are deregulated—the reason why uncontrolled anger occurs. Brain training will also increase impulse control, and decrease emotional reactivity (anger, rage irritability), muscle tension and negative thoughts.
Dealing with your anger appropriately will not only feel better but will help you manage conflicts better and strengthen your relationships. Learning to control anger is a challenge for everyone at times. Mastering the art of anger management takes effort, but the more you practise, the easier it gets.