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Anger Management Strategies For Adults

If you have an anger problem it can have a negative impact on all your social relationships. Your partner, friends, kids, co-workers, and bosses may all come to think you're a temperamental jerk. Your outbursts may lead you into trouble with your loved ones, your social circle, your job, or even the law.

Anger management issues are common. Along with sadness and anxiety, anger is one of the core human emotions that can lead to problems if it gets out of hand. Fortunately, over the years mental health professionals have developed a variety of strategies for dealing with it. If you're naturally hot headed you may never become extremely laid back, but you can get to a point where you can keep the worst of your anger from damaging your life. This article will summarize many of the approaches that can help you do that.

Origins of anger issues

By the time someone's an adult their anger has usually become a habit. They know it doesn't always work, but it's their effortless, go-to response. But where does it start? The following have been shown to be linked to anger:

Immediate strategies for calming yourself once you're already angry

The advice on how to deal with anger falls into two main categories: Ways you can calm yourself if you've already become mad, and a variety of longer-term approaches where you can try to prevent yourself from getting as angry in the first place. This section will quickly deal with the first category. If you're already riled up, here are some ways to try to contain the damage:

If possible, leave the situation

Go somewhere else where you can begin to calm down. Just being away from the source of your frustration may be enough to help you cool off. It also gives you space to apply some other techniques to calm yourself.

Unfortunately you won't always be able to escape. If you're fighting with your partner they may block the door or follow you. You may be stuck in traffic. You may be at work. Sometimes there are ways out of even these situations. Maybe you could tell your partner that you need a few minutes alone to collect yourself. At work you could pretend you need to use the washroom. In traffic you could pull into a parking lot, or switch to another route.

Count to ten

If you're still in the anger-inducing situation this well-known trick can buy you some time, so you don't succumb to your first impulse to lash out. Those ten seconds can allow the worst of your anger to dissipate. The act of counting also slightly distracts you.

Use calming breathing techniques

Taking slow, deep breaths physically calms your body and mind. When you inhale, breathe using your abdomen. Your belly should expand, rather than your chest and shoulders. Take in a good deal of air, hold it for a few seconds, then slowly exhale. The timing doesn't matter down to the exact second, but one way to ensure you're breathing deeply is to use the 4-7-8 exercise. Inhale for four seconds, hold for seven, then exhale over the last eight. Repeat a few times until you start to feel more in control.

Repeat calming phrases to yourself

This idea works in the same way as counting to ten. If you use this approach you'll eventually hit on a phrase that works best for you. Some examples are, "Take it easy", "Chill out", "Be calm", "It's not a big deal", or "Will I really care about this tomorrow?"

Picture calming images

For example you could imagine yourself sitting on a tropical island beach as waves gently lap the shore, or lying in a field on a warm summer day as the grass and wildflowers sway in the breeze.

Put a humorous spin on the situation

It's hard to feel angry at the same time that you're amused at something. If someone's annoyed you, try picturing them in a funny or absurd way. For example, if your boss has been sending you nitpicky emails all day, imagine them as a giant squawking parrot sitting behind a computer.

Do something physical to burn off your angry energy

This is another option you may not always have access to, but if you can it may help to run around the block, or bang out a bunch of push ups in your room. Be careful about more aggressive actions like punching a pillow. Studies have shown that rather than venting your anger, they can rile you up even more.

Longer-term strategies to prevent flare ups before they happen

If you've already gotten really angry it's often too late. The best way to control your temper is to employ a mix of approaches to prevent as many blow ups as possible in the first place. I'll cover a lot of ideas below, and this section will make up the bulk of this article.

Take responsibility for your anger and for dealing with it

Many angry people know they have a short fuse, and accept that most of the blames falls on them when they lose their cool. After all, not everyone gets so wound up by the things that set them off. It's that saying, "Nothing forces you to be angry. On some level you're allowing yourself to feel that way." Some angry people don't take full responsibility for their outbursts though, and place the blame in a variety of other places. These factors may contribute to a person's anger, but they don't fully let them off the hook. Do you use any of these phrases to excuse your outbursts?

Understand how your anger ticks on a practical level

To get a handle on your anger you first need to know what it looks like for you.

Learn the signs that you're getting angry

Angry people often aren't tuned in to how irritated they feel a lot of the time. They sometimes catch themselves off guard by losing their temper 'out of nowhere', because they weren't focused on how their annoyance had been building up inside them. Figure out the personal signs that you're starting to become angry. Some common ones are:

In addition to that, map out what your anger looks like at different intensity levels.

Get an idea of the situations that tend to trigger your anger

Most anger-prone people have a few key scenarios that set them off. Some general ones are:

Aside from general situations, like being on the job, where any number of things may annoy you, you may find there are more specific circumstances that get you going:

Be aware of the dangerous situations that can cause your anger to sneakily build up to critical mass

As I mentioned a little earlier, angry people are sometimes caught off guard by their own tempers. A statement you'll often hear along those lines is, "I don't know what happened. I just got so mad all of the sudden and before I knew it I had put my hand through the wall and scared my girlfriend half to death" If you've been through this what likely happened is that you were in a tense situation where your anger was building, but you were too caught up in the conflict at hand, and didn't notice what was happening with your mood until you were enraged and past the point of no return.

Some examples of these tense, risky situations are:

When a person explodes under these circumstances their anger may have started ramping up before they were even in the situation, and they were anticipating how poorly it could go. They may have worked themselves up on the drive to their job, or before meeting their buddies, or while they waited for their partner to get home before they confronted them. Once the actual situation started, little things began to happen that caused their frustration to build (e.g., their partner disagreed with them and started making personal attacks, or their manager called them out for a mistake they had nothing to do with). After twenty minutes of petty bickering, or half a shift of getting picked on, it's then that they snapped 'out of nowhere'.

Get in the habit of frequently checking in on your anger levels

Monitoring your anger helps you get out of trouble situations before it's too late (when no amount of calming breathing or relaxing imagery will help you). Checking in on yourself is something you can do throughout the day. It's especially important to start checking in on your mood when you're in a triggering situation, or you've already noticed yourself starting to get annoyed. Whatever your level of anger, take steps to reduce it.

Ways to curtail minor irritation

Come up with a plan in advance about what you'll do if you get extremely angry

If you've gotten really mad you won't be able to think straight in the moment. In these cases it helps to have a pre-set plan. For example, if a father frequently snaps at his kids when they squabble at home, his plan could be that when he's about to lash out that he'll go his bedroom for five minutes, during which time he'll sit on his bed and breathe deeply. If possible he'll get his wife to step in and hold down the fort while he's away. At the end of the five minutes he'll come back downstairs and deal with the kids' behavior.

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Learn to identify and dispute the thoughts and worldview that can feed your anger

Depressed people tend to think in a self-effacing, pessimistic, hopeless way that sustains their depression. Anxious people see the world as more threatening than it is, which reinforces their worries. Angry people have their own thought patterns which make it more likely they'll lose their temper and act out.

You can reduce your anger if you learn to identify and dispute these thoughts as they occur. Over a longer period of time you may also be able to replace your anger-inducing worldview with one more conducive to being relaxed and laid back:

Reduce Stress

This is a more indirect approach. Your anger will be more volatile when you're tense and stressed out. Implementing practices to calm yourself and reduce that stress will cut down on your baseline level of grouchiness.

Add calming practices to your day

Some things you could try:

That's a quick list. This article goes into several of the points above in more detail:

Lifestyle And Practical Changes That Can Improve Mood

Cut down on the stressors in your life

The points above about relaxation can help, but if you've got big stresses in your life, calming activities can seem like Band-Aids. If your life is stressful enough, you're only going to have so much power to reduce your anger through other methods. Approaches like reframing your thinking can help, but they won't save you every time. It's anything but a simple, overnight fix, but the true long-term solution is to take steps to remove the stress at its source. It's beyond the scope of this article to list every stressful life event that may be affecting you, or how to deal with it, but some examples are:

Improve your anger-related communication skills

Anger issues are often tied to problems with communication.

If your anger is justified, learn to express it in a more productive way

Sometimes when people get angry it's obvious they're blowing up over nothing, or are actually mad at something else and taking out their frustration on an easier target. However, we often get angry for totally justifiable reasons. That's why the emotion exists. It alerts us to when we've been wronged, and motivates us to do something to fix the situation. When people have anger problems their core reasons for getting angry may be correct, but they often go too far in expressing the emotion. Learning anger management techniques doesn't mean you have to start letting people walk all over you, or swallow all your feelings and opinions.

While it's perfectly okay to feel angry, and you might have a legitimate gripe you want to share, what's not alright is to express your anger in an aggressive, destructive, intimidating way that tramples all over other people. Instead, learn to communicate assertively. Assertiveness, in contrast to aggressiveness, is when you stand up for your rights and needs, but do so in a way that respects the rights and needs of others.

For example, if you feel your partner sometimes makes jokes at your expense in front of her friends, an aggressive response may be to yell at them on the drive home after a party. A more assertive response would be to sit them down on a weekend morning and matter-of-factly tell them that it bothers you when they put you down, and that you'd like them to stop.

Don't bottle things up when something annoys you

This point is related to assertiveness skills. If someone wrongs you it's not healthy in the long run to suppress those feelings, as they'll just come out later. You might reach a breaking point and explode. You may take your temper out on an undeserving target. You could suppress so much anger that you develop a grouchy, negative personality, or become depressed.

Not bottling things up involves bringing up bothersome issues as they happen (and in a productive manner, like the point above mentions). Of course, it's not practical or realistic to tell others about every instance in which they make you feel slighted, but at the same time, you can probably bring things to people's attention a lot sooner than you normally would. For example, if your friend has a habit of being unreliable, you may give them a pass the first two times they do it, but say something on the third. In the past you may have let them flake on you for months without saying anything, only to suddenly erupt at them one day. If you find you have a hard time asserting yourself in this way, it's a skill you can develop.

Learn to listen more and wait before you speak

Try to get into a habit of listening to other people and trying to understand where they're coming from, as opposed to feeling you have to win every argument and defend your position at all costs. Resist the urge to speak right away. If you give it time, you'll be way less likely to say something careless in the heat of the moment.

Learn how to argue properly

Whole books have been written about this topic, so I can't begin to do it justice in one paragraph. If you usually get angry during fights with your partner or family members, read up on how to fight fair and respectfully. Also, during arguments with our loved ones, there are common interpersonal dynamics that can come into play that can cause disagreements to quickly escalate (e.g., the Pursuer - Distancer dynamic). Knowing about them will aid you in preventing these situations from getting too hairy.

Improve your communication skills at work

This is another area where I can only bring it to your attention and then leave it to you to look for further information on your own. If you often get pissed off at your co-workers or boss it could help to bolster your work-related people skills. For example, you may need to learn skills in working as an effective part of a team, dealing with difficult co-workers or customers, managing other people, or getting along with superiors.

Understand the mentality behind your anger

Aside from the more practical suggestions above, delving into the motivations behind your anger may help. Insight alone won't cure you, but it can give you an idea of some issues you need to address.

Think about the emotions or motivations that may be underneath your anger

There's a popular notion that anger is like an iceberg. The anger is the tip we see on the surface, but below that are other emotions such as fear or depression. I won't go as far to say that every time someone gets annoyed there's a deeper reason behind it, but often there is. If you can identify that emotion, and work with it directly, you may be able to take away some of your temper's fuel. Thinking about underlying causes also takes the focus off how wronged you feel and how you need to get revenge, and moves it to your own more hurt or vulnerable feelings. Some examples:

Aside from the concept of other emotions lying underneath anger, there are other factors that can cause someone to feel more grouchy and temperamental:

Think on the beliefs you have about anger

One factor that can sustain temperamental behavior is when deep down you have positive, not necessarily true, beliefs about what being angry means. For example:

Think about the benefits you get from being angry

It's sometimes hard to let go of a pattern of behavior because while it causes problems, it also has its upsides. If you can become aware of the things you gain from your anger, you may be able to find alternative ways to get them. Some advantages of losing your temper are:

Build up a 'bank account' of good will that will buffer you from the fallout of your blow ups

Even with the best emotion management techniques you may still get angry from time to time. When you do get angry the after effects are often influenced by how everyone saw you before you got mad at them. You can take some preventative measures to soften the impact of your blow ups.

Imagine two people in a workplace who occasionally lose their tempers. One person is normally very friendly, helpful, and good-natured. He's self-aware about his bad temper, and makes sure to let new employees know about it in a joking, self-effacing way. That way, if he ever does get pissed at them, at least they were mentally prepared for the possibility. When his co-workers sometimes joke about what a hothead he is, he's able to laugh at himself. He takes responsibility for his outbursts and doesn't try to blame them on anyone else. In the past when he's lost his cool he's made sure to apologize for it. It's clear to everyone he's actively taking steps to work on his problem.

Our second hypothetical worker is the opposite. Day to day he's grumpy, difficult, and sullen. He seemingly has no insight into how crotchety he is. He doesn't even make a token, bare-minimum effort to socialize with his co-workers. He's caught new employees off guard by screaming at them out of the blue. After he gets angry he typically lectures the victim on all the ways they screwed up that caused him to get so annoyed.

Imagine each of these people loses their cool one day. Worker A's relationships will come out relatively unscathed. Even though he sometimes gets too angry, his behavior during the other 99% of the time has given him a 'bank account' of good will. When he makes a withdrawal by losing his temper, he still has enough good reputation left over. As for Worker B, everyone already thinks he's a moody jerk. Every outburst he has just digs him in a little deeper, and damages his relationships that much more.

This approach has limits. Being aware of your anger issues will earn you points initially, but if over time you keep acting in the same old toxic style your self-insight will lose its luster. People will see you're not actually changing your behavior, and they won't excuse you for acting like a jerk just because you know you can be that way.