|“If you are patient in one moment of anger,
you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.”
– Chinese Proverb
Whether it’s a quick flash of temper or a longstanding resentment, there are healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with anger. Managing anger in healthy ways is important to our relationships, our daily lives, and even our health.
People respond to anger in any of three ways: by expressing their feelings, suppressing them, and/or calming and detaching themselves from their emotions. Expressing anger in ways that don’t hurt you or others can be a positive experience with lasting benefits. Ideally, you can clearly and assertively express how you are feeling, the reasons you feel that way, and what you need. That is, you can try to work with the people involved to address the problem causing your anger. This can lead to a better understanding on both sides and perhaps avoid conflict in the future.
In contrast, many people express their anger in the form of aggression or emotional outburst, including yelling, swearing, even destructive or violent behavior. This uncontrolled reaction to anger is not healthy or productive, often leaving the problem unresolved and ready to flare up again in the future, leading potentially to cycles of anger and abuse. In these cases, professional help may be called for.
Sometimes, instead of expressing anger, people suppress it, holding in their anger and attempting to focus on something else. While suppressing anger can sometimes help us avoid a confrontation, it is ultimately an unhealthy response. Holding onto our anger often turns it inward, harming us. This can lead to depression, resentment, passive aggressive behavior, and self-sabotage, as well as to physical symptoms including hypertension and high blood pressure.
One reason that people suppress anger is because they are unwilling or unable to acknowledge the feelings or situations that cause the anger. We live in a world that is sometimes unpredictable, disappointing, and painful. Not everything turns out the way we want or plan. When we cannot accept frustration or allow ourselves to feel vulnerable and hurt, our feelings often transform into anger. If we continue to be unaware of the cause of anger and/or unable to express our feelings, we may react to anger in uncontrolled and harmful ways.
Finally, some people seek to calm themselves when they are angry. They attempt to relax and slow their breathing in addition to letting go of the thoughts and feelings that are making them angry. This response can be a useful strategy, but not if it keeps us from dealing with our emotions and our situation in an honest, straightforward manner. Sometimes it is important to express and confront anger in a more direct and productive way.
How can I handle my anger in a healthy way?
- Cool down and relax. Take slow, deep breaths. Count to ten before saying or doing anything. Take a few moments for yourself away from the situation that is upsetting. Use mental imagery to help you calm down. For example, close your eyes and picture yourself in a place where you feel safe and calm.
- Improve communication. Practice expressing your feelings and needs in a clear, non-aggressive manner. Use “I statements,” to explain your feelings and point of view. Avoid blame or accusation, such as “It’s your fault,” or “You just don’t get it!” Listen to what the other person has to say. If you are experiencing a lot of anger in a relationship, set aside regular time to talk before conflict erupts.
- Change your thinking. When something happens that angers you, pay attention to your thoughts. Do you repeat phrases like, “Why does this always happen to me?” “She always does this to me!” or “Everything is ruined?” Rather than magnifying the problem by telling yourself how horrible it is, use logic and calm thinking to put the situation in perspective and consider your options. Efforts to develop patience and a more positive attitude will pay off over time.
- Avoid triggering situations. When you realize that a particular person, place, or situation always makes you angry, consider possible alternatives. It is not healthy to shy away from conflict, but you do not need to continually put yourself in situations that will trigger your anger. When there is an alternative, take it.
- Use humor. Find something funny about the situation or about your own reaction. If you can recognize the imperfections of yourself and others, and treat them humorously, you can diffuse some of the anger. This may help to ease the tension and open up honest discussion.
- Try to see the person’s perspective. If you can understand why another person did or said the things that angered you, you may see that there is little or no reason to be angry. They may not have intended or were simply unaware of their words or action’s impact on you. Or, it may give you a starting point to have an open conversation and work towards resolution. At the very least, you will see that there are two sides to every issue.
- Forgive. As the Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” It is often difficult to forgive people who have hurt or angered us. However, forgiveness can release the burden of anger. If you have difficulty letting go of the anger, talk with a trusted friend, a clergyman, or a professional. Unresolved anger can negatively affect your health.
- Consider seeking professional help. If your anger is out of control and is affecting your daily life and relationships, consider counseling. Working with a licensed professional can help you develop a range of strategies for dealing with your anger. Anger can also be a symptom of a larger problem, such as depression. Getting to the root of the issue can lead to appropriate treatment and lasting positive change.
American Psychological Association