Do you ever get so angry that you can feel it bubbling up inside you? Or maybe when you’re in a rage it washes over you like a tsunami, leaving you feeling helpless and out of control?
We all experience anger every now and then. And that’s fine – it’s a completely natural emotion. Sometimes a bit of anger can actually be helpful: it can give us the courage to stand up for ourselves, protect us from immediate danger and fuel us to campaign against societal injustice.
But there’s a difference between short-term anger and overwhelming rage. If your anger often spirals out of control it can interfere with your day-to-day life. And it can cause real problems with your relationships, work – and in some cases, even the law.
You may have a short fuse and lash out at your partner, even though they’re only trying to help. Or maybe when you’re livid you have an overwhelming urge to punch holes in walls and break things.
You may even feel physical changes. Clenched fists, a tense jaw, rapid heart palpitations… it can be an overwhelming experience.
Anger is there to protect us. But, more often than not, acting on its urges won’t do us any good. If anything, the screaming matches and the outbursts wreak havoc with our friendships and relationships – and, ultimately, we end up hurting ourselves too.
If you have an anger problem, it’s easy to feel like you’re at its mercy. But remember: you have the power to change. There are ways you can learn to tune into your anger and find the root cause behind it. And with time and the right coping techniques, you can even overcome it.
Why am I angry?
If you’re feeling angry for what seems like no apparent reason, can’t shake your frustration at the world or are snapping at people more often, know this: you’re not alone.
In a recent survey, the Mental Health Foundation found that 32% of people had a close friend or family member who had trouble controlling their anger. Meanwhile, 28% of people said they were worried about how angry they feel.
But what causes anger? Here are just a few common triggers:
- Being unfairly treated and feeling powerless to change it
- Feeling threatened or attacked
- Feeling like your feelings or possessions aren’t being taken seriously
- Physical threats
- Violation of your personal space
- Relationship disputes
How you react to these triggers depends on lots of factors:
- Your current situation – If you’re juggling lots of problems or stresses, you may find yourself getting angrier than usual, or getting angry at unrelated things.
- Your family history – You may have learnt unhealthy coping techniques from the adults around you growing up. Maybe a parent punished you for expressing anger as a child, so you suppressed the emotion and it’s now it’s harder to control. Or perhaps you witnessed an adult’s aggression and now fear your own anger.
- Your past – People who’ve experienced traumatic or frightening events (e.g. violence, abuse or terror) may develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and can be prone to angry outbursts.
- Substances – If you take substances like drugs and alcohol you may act more aggressively than usual when under the influence.
What are the signs that you have an anger problem?
We all get angry from time to time. But here are some telltale signs that your anger may be a serious problem:
- It affects your relationships and social life
- You feel that you have to hide or hold in your anger
- You become physically violent when you’re angry
- You feel unable to control your anger
- You threaten other people or their property
- You argue with others frequently
- You feel compelled to take part in violent, reckless or impulsive activities e.g. driving recklessly
- You constantly focus on negative experiences
- You feel impatient, irritated or hostile
How to control your anger
Take a break
If you’re hot-tempered, your anger can feel like a volcano that’s ready to erupt at any minute. So the first step is to stop yourself and take a step back. You might even want to remove yourself from the situation. This doesn’t mean storming out and slamming doors. Instead quietly remove yourself from the problem or person, take a deep breath and count to 10. This gives you time to cool down, so you can be more level-headed.
Find the root cause
Anger is often dubbed a ‘masking emotion’. That’s because, more often than not, other vulnerable feelings are hiding just below the surface. We may be dealing with fear, panic or shame – but instead of admitting these emotions, we get angry.
Try and identify if there are any other vulnerable feelings you’re experiencing and pinpoint any future triggers. It could be that a friend made a rude remark and you’re feeling embarrassed or hurt. Or perhaps a colleague interrupted you during a presentation and your self-esteem took a hit. Anger tends to be a secondary response to feelings of shame and vulnerability so be kind to yourself and tap into how you’re feeling.
Change your thinking
“It’s not fair”, “You always do that”, “You never listen to me.” Sound familiar? It’s easy to get stuck in an unhelpful loop, mulling over the same negative thoughts. You may catastrophize and always think the worst-case scenario or perhaps you only see every situation in black and white. It’s easy to fall into these thinking traps, and people with anger issues may stumble into them more often than most.
To tackle this, take time to identify any unhelpful thinking patterns you may have. You can often spot these because they use extreme language like “always”, “never”, “should” and “shouldn’t”.
Next, you’ll want to interrogate these thoughts. Ask yourself:
- “What is the evidence for and against this thought?”
- “Could there be another explanation?”
- “What would other people say?”
- “Am I jumping to conclusions?”
By taking a step back you might be able to see the wider picture. Maybe you misinterpreted that mean text your friend sent you. Or perhaps they’re going through a rough patch, which explains why they’ve been acting a certain way. Looking at a situation from a fresh perspective could be all you need to extinguish your anger.
Tune into your body
Ever get red in the face or feel your heart racing when you’re frustrated? Or maybe you know you’re fuming when you feel a tightness in your jaw. Our emotions are anchored in the body – so it’s no surprise that anger manifests physically too.
Next time you’re angry, take time to soothe your body. Relax your posture, and if your teeth or fists are clenched, try to unclench them. You could even try splashing some cold water on your face if you feel hot.
Besides this, it may also be helpful to try a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This is where you slowly tense and relax each muscle group, which can help release stored up tension in the body. If you need a helping hand, tune into the Progressive Muscle Relaxation of Self-Care and we’ll help you get started.
Channelling your anger into exercises like kickboxing or running can help you release any pent up energy. And, better yet, it also releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone that helps us relax.
“Over breathing” is common when we’re angry. This is when you automatically breathe in more than you breathe out. You might take quick shallow breaths or big “gulps” of air, and this can naturally exacerbate the physical symptoms of anger.
With this in mind, it may be helpful to practice deep breathing the next time you feel like you’re going to lose your temper. Breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and as you exhale, try to relax. Deep breathing not only readdresses this breath imbalance but it also helps to stimulate the parasympathetic system, which provides a sense of calm.
Pouring your emotions into a creative outlet like painting, writing or singing may help you redirect your anger and make sense of it.
Talk about how you’re feeling
Offloading to a friend might help you get perspective on the situation. But, if you’d rather speak to someone impartial, therapy could be a good place to start. Not only will it teach you coping techniques to help you cool off, but it also provides the safe space you need to start unravelling where your anger issues stem from.
Let’s face it: dealing with anger issues is really tough. Sometimes, it feels like no matter how hard we try, we can’t extinguish the fiery rage that burns within us when someone pushes in the front of us in a queue or our boss asks us to work late again.
But you can do it.
We inevitably all lose our cool from time to time, but just remember how much you inevitably regret it when you blurt out that snide remark or end up in a screaming match.
Recognising that you have an anger problem is the first and most important step.
Now keep going.