If you have an anger problem, there are methods you can use to try to control this yourself.
Recognising your anger signs
Your heart beats faster and you breathe more quickly, preparing you for action. You might also notice other signs, such as tension in your shoulders or clenching your fists.
If you notice these signs and you struggle to stay in control, try to get out of the situation using the methods below.
Count to 10
Counting from 0 to 10 and then backwards from 10 to 0 gives you time to cool down so you can think more clearly and overcome the impulse to lash out.
You tend to breathe in more when you feel angry. Make sure you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and relax as you exhale. This will help you calm down and think clearly.
Leave the environment
If your environment or the people you are with make you feel angry, then briefly leaving the environment may help. Try having a walk around the block or sitting on the toilet for a few minutes.
Talk yourself calm
Some people find it useful to repeat a phrase or word to themselves when they are feeling angry, such as "take it easy" or "these feelings will soon pass". Or you could imagine a calm person who you know talking to you and giving you advice to relax.
Distracting yourself from the situation that is making you angry can help, such as reading a magazine or listening to relaxing music.
Relieving physical tension
It is possible to relieve pent-up physical tension without harming yourself or others. If you feel the need to hit something, use a mattress. And if you feel like screaming, you could try screaming into a pillow.
Exercise is an excellent way of relieving tension as well as improving your mood (see below).
Venting your feelings
Sharing your feelings and frustrations with friends can often help you get a better perspective on a situation.
You could also try writing about how you feel. However, don't post something in the heat of the moment on the internet or a social network site, which you may later regret.
Changing the way you think
Often how you think about people, problems and situations can determine how you then feel and act about them. It is common to fall into unhelpful patterns of thinking, which can then lead to unhelpful patterns of behaviour.
Changing the way you think plays an important part in a type of talking therapy known as cognitive behavioural therapy.
When people become angry, the language they use is often very black and white, such as: "It's all ruined now," which reinforces their feelings of anger. This type of language and thinking also stops you seeking a potential solution to a problem and can upset people around you.
When you begin to feel angry, avoid using words and phrases such as:
- always ("You always do that")
- never ("You never listen to me")
- should/shouldn't ("You should do what I want" or "You shouldn't be on the roads")
- must/mustn't ("I must be on time" or "I mustn't be late")
- ought/oughtn't ("People ought to get out of my way")
- it's not fair
Angry people tend to make demands rather than requests. This can make a bad situation worse. It is always healthier to say that you "would like something" than you "must have it".
Anger can quickly cause you to become irrational and lose all sense of perspective. Try to step back and think logically about a situation. For example, losing a wallet or purse can be annoying, but most people will lose a wallet at least once or twice during their life. Frustrating as this may be, it is not the end of the world.
Situations or issues in your life that cause you anger can be resolved by planning and problem solving.
For example, if driving to work in traffic causes you to become angry with other road users, it may be better to catch a bus or a train or, if possible, work different hours to avoid the rush hour.
If you tend to argue with your partner in the evening, it could be because you are both tired after a day’s work. You could wait until Sunday morning to talk about issues.
However, not every problem can be solved and you may need to focus your efforts on learning how to best cope with the problem, and then moving on.
Often when you enter into an angry exchange with someone, both your and the other person’s responses can quickly lead to misunderstandings and incorrect conclusions.
This is why it’s important to slow down, listen to what is being said, and then think carefully before responding.
If you are being criticised by somebody, it is natural to feel defensive, but this should not encourage you to respond with your own "verbal attack". Instead, try to remain calm and ask non-threatening questions about why the person feels the need to criticise you in this way. Often what you may first see as an attack is actually a problem that the other person is trying to cope with.
Humour can play an essential part in helping reduce feelings of anger and maintain a healthy sense of perspective.
For example, imagine you are having a really bad day where everything is going wrong. Rather than picturing yourself as a victim and getting more and more angry, try picturing yourself as a sitcom "figure of fun" – a Basil Fawlty, David Brent or Homer Simpson, for example. Then, if things continue to go wrong, you may start to find them ridiculous rather than frustrating, and your mood may improve.
Learning not to take yourself or your life too seriously can often help put things in the proper perspective.
However, it is important to avoid using sarcasm while dealing with other people. Sarcastic humour can be perceived as a form of aggression.
Managing anger in the long term
Once you can recognise the signs that you are getting angry and can calm yourself down, you can start looking at ways to control your anger more generally.
Exercise is one of the best ways to release built-up anger and tension. Running, walking, swimming, yoga and meditation are just a few of the activities that boost your production of "good mood" hormones (such as endorphins) and help reduce stress.
Read more about the benefits of exercise.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing exercise that focuses on fully inflating your lungs, helping you to unwind. A simple guide is:
- Sit or lie comfortably and loosen your clothing.
- Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose and slowly count to three in your head.
- As you breathe in, feel your stomach inflate with your hand. If your chest expands, focus on breathing with your diaphragm.
- Slowly breathe out through pursed lips and slowly count to six.
- Repeat two more times.
Listening to calming music, such as classical music, can help you relax. It can slow your pulse and heart rate, reduce stress hormones and lower your blood pressure.
Massage and relaxation
The kneading and stroking movements in massage relax tense muscle and improve your circulation.
Some people find that relaxation classes are good at reducing stress levels and help control anger. Yoga, pilates and tai chi may also be helpful.
Read more about how to start doing yoga, pilates and tai chi.