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At one time or another almost everyone feels angry. The anger may result from a frustrating situation or it may be due to someone’s behavior. Regardless of where it comes from, the way we deal with that anger is the difference between a good outcome and a bad one. It’s the difference between a promotion and a lost job, between a broken relationship and one that works in the long term.
When looking at the practice of emotional intelligence there is an aspect which is about the ability to manage our own emotions. Perhaps the most difficult of these emotions to manage is anger, which all too often erupts into open rage. You’ve probably experienced this yourself. Once anger starts anger tends to be self-perpetuating and sometimes self amplifying too.
What begins as a mild irritation or annoyance can quickly become strong frustration and anger if we don’t take active steps to stop it. But as we stated earlier, allowing this to happen can be the difference between good outcomes and bad ones in your life. That’s why learning to manage anger is such a critical piece of growing up.
Thankfully, over the years, social psychologists who have studied the topic of managing anger have developed several good strategies to deal with it. Strategies that, if used, can help maximize the potential for positive consequences. (Ellis, 2000; Nelson and Finch, 2000;Bernstein,2011)
Since anger is self amplifying, a key strategy for managing it effectively is to realize and stop it at an early stage. As is the case with much of the work around mental health, adding time to the process gives us the space we need to stay in control.
So if you feel you might get angry in a particular situation or you suspect that this situation might go out of hand you need to immediately start taking a few steps.
Here are a few steps you can take in these moments:
Take a Moment to Cool Off
If possible leave the situation or change the topic. At the very least you need to stop interacting with the other person or the situation in general. Doing so can give you the time to stop and think about the situation at hand. Your goal is to minimize the importance of the situation at hand. Try asking yourself whether or not this really matters.
Do Something Else
The more you allow yourself to sit in your anger, the angrier you are going to get. That’s why taking your mind off of it can be so helpful in these moments.. The incompatible response approach, a technique developed some years ago can come in handy. This technique suggests that it’s difficult if not impossible to remain angry in the presence of stimuli that cause us to experience some incompatible emotion. For example, a comedian making us laugh. You can use this technique to control your own anger by exposing yourself as quickly as possible to something that contradicts your anger. Watch a stand up, spend time with a loved one, watch a funny video.
Change Your Perspective
When someone makes us angry we usually attribute their actions or behavior to insensitivity, selfishness or-worse. If, instead, you try to come up with positive explanations of the words or actions that have made you frustrated, instead of making you angry it can actually reduce your annoyance. Perhaps you are just over analyzing the situation or you don’t realize the implications of what they said. Or maybe, if you can’t think of anything, asking them to clarify their intentions can help. Ultimately, If you concentrate on getting another perspective and taking the other person’s point of view, you may be able to understand the situation in a better way and with this increased understanding you can become more tolerant of the apparent shortcomings of others.
Don’t Get it Out of Your System
The word catharsis is defined as, “the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.”
Contrary to what most people, a large body of research indicates that venting anger does not actually reduce it. On the contrary such actions tend to increase annoyance. (e.g., Bushman, Baumeister, and Stack,1999). So whatever else you do, don’t follow your impulse to give another person a dirty look, or shout, or justify or pound on the situation.
Doing so will only make your mental state worse and the situation will amplify further.
Do Something to Relax
Take a brisk walk or engage in some other physical activity in order to cool your head. Just by relaxing yourself you can drastically reduce anger. To accomplish this, it’s worth teaching yourself a few relaxation techniques.
For this, we turn to systematic desensitization. Systematic desensitization is basically a type of behavioural therapy developed on the basis of classical conditioning. It was developed by Wolpe in the 1950s.
“This therapy aims to remove the fear response of a phobia, and substitute a relaxation response to the conditional stimulus gradually using counter conditioning.”
- Diaphragmatic breathing. With this technique, you’ll learn to regulate your breathing by breathing slowly and deeply through your nose, holding the breath for one to two seconds, then breathing out through your mouth.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. You’ll learn to tense up and release muscles throughout your body. This technique can reduce muscle tension and help you recognize the difference between tense and relaxed muscles. That way, you’ll be able to better recognize when your muscles start tensing up in response to anxiety or fear.
- Visualization. You’ll focus on a relaxing scene, picturing it in your mind and concentrating on sensory details, such as sights or smells. This includes guided imagery, which involves someone describing a scene to you.
- Meditation and mindfulness techniques. Learning meditation may help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings as you face a fearful situation. Mindfulness helps you notice what you’re experiencing in the present moment, which can reduce anxious thoughts.
No matter which of these strategies you try or implement in daily life, above all don’t ignore your anger. People always try to suppress their anger and may experience a variety of consequences by doing so, it just makes it worse. It can lead to self-condemnation, frustration and even physical illnesses.
Learn to manage your anger instead. This will allow you to use it as motivation when it’s needed (as we’ve discussed in past episodes) or squash it when it’s a problem.