It can happen when your kids talk back, when you’re cut off in traffic, when you step on a toy that was never put away… Whether it’s every day or hardly ever, anger is just a part of the human experience. We’ll never be able to completely avoid it. But, if your anger is having a negative impact on your quality of life or getting in the way of your relationships, take a moment to review these helpful tips from Dr. Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ.
Anger vs. aggression
Before offering his tips, Dr. Fox made an important distinction between anger and aggression. “Angry feelings are a normal and healthy part of being human,” he explained. “Anger is defined as strong feelings of annoyance, displeasure or hostility. Aggression is defined as hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another.” The key difference in the two is when feelings turn into action. It’s ok if you are prone to anger. But it’s vital that we learn to control reactions to avoid negative outcomes like aggressive behavior.
Tips for cooling down
1. Recognize the warning signs
“Even if you are not aware of your anger, it influences how you behave,” said Dr. Fox. The first step to managing anger is recognizing it. In moments when you recognize that you’re getting angry, make note of your feelings. Common warning signs of anger could include getting red in the face, heavy or fast breathing, raised voice, feeling hot, or getting sick to your stomach. As you become more familiar with your warning signs, you’ll be more able to deescalate.
2. Know your anger triggers
Once you’ve recognized your anger, the next step is to look back and identify the triggers. These triggers could be people, places, situations, and things that stress you out and set off your anger. They are clues for the emotions behind your anger. Create a list of things that make you angry and review them daily. Reviewing your triggers will keep them fresh in your mind, increasing the likelihood you notice them before they become a problem.
3. Write it down
Anger is a difficult thing to define. By writing down your feelings you give structure to the experience and make it easier to understand. Dr. Fox recommended keeping a journal of your warning signs and triggers. “I also encourage patients to write down what they do when they get angry,” added Dr. Fox. “Then I ask them to write down ways in which they could have reacted differently. Finally, I ask them to write down the problems resulting from their anger, i.e., sour relationships, getting in trouble at work, etc.” Not only does this exercise offer an important perspective, it also reveals opportunities to identify coping techniques and tracks your successes over time.
4. Employ healthy coping techniques
It isn’t always possible to avoid triggers, but you must have a plan. For many, resolving the conflict may not be possible in the heat of the moment. Diversions can be a sort of “time out.” After you return, you may be in a better frame of mind to talk it out. Some examples of healthy coping techniques include:
- Avoiding difficult conversations when you are tired
- Going for a brisk walk
- Deep breathing exercises and meditation
- Reading a book
- Exercising or other physical activity
- Listening to music
5. Make time for self-care
When you are happy, you are less likely to have an outburst. If you are feeling on edge, Dr. Fox recommended scheduling time to do things you enjoy, and which put you at ease. For parents, this might mean planning with a babysitter so that you can have a regular date night with your spouse. When you’re at work, making time for self-care could include reserving time for healthy meals and taking your allotted paid time off.
Take your anger under control
Dr. Fox reiterated that “Anger is a normal and healthy emotion. However, when anger turns to aggression, we have lost control.” If you need help expressing your feelings in a healthy way, set up an appointment with a mental health specialist and work toward a solution.
Want to learn more about what your mood might be telling you? Read these helpful articles written with Banner Health experts.