Tame the beast

Anger – learning to tame this powerful emotion. 

Words: Sarah Yancey

There is much more to anger than simply having a tantrum and spitting the dummy. Anger is a normal human emotion and when it is managed properly, it is not a problem. In fact, mild anger can be useful when trying to express strong feelings and deal with situations. If anger transfers to aggression however, it becomes problematic and can lead to all sorts of complications in relationships and reduce the overall quality of life.

According to the Australian Psychological Society, angry behaviours include yelling, throwing things, criticising, ignoring, storming out and sometimes withdrawing and doing nothing.

Although anger is experienced by both men and women, it is often expressed differently. “Many men believe it is the more legitimate emotion to express in a situation. Often men find it harder to express the feelings underneath the anger, like hurt, sadness or grief. For women the reverse may often be true – the anger gets buried under tears.”

If you feel that your anger is out of control, you should consider seeing a psychologist who can assess if your anger is a problem and help you understand your anger. A psychologist can also advise you about other resources to help manage your anger, such as support groups, books and courses.

Tips to help manage anger

The first step in being able to manage your anger is to recognise the situations that make you angry and identify your body’s warning signs of anger.

  • Make a list of your anger trigger points – so that you may be able to avoid these things or do something different when they happen.
  • Notice the warning signs of anger – is you heart pounding? Are you sweating? Is your chest tight and is your jaw tensed? The earlier you can recognise these warning signs of anger, the more successful you will be at calming yourself down.
  • When you’re angry, your thinking can be exaggerated and irrational. For example, instead of telling yourself ‘I can’t stand it, it’s awful and everything’s ruined’, tell yourself ‘It’s frustrating, and it’s understandable that I’m upset about it, but it’s not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it’.
  • If you feel your anger is getting out of control, take time out from a situation or argument. Try stepping out of the room, or going for a walk.
  • Use distractions – listen to soothing music, talk to a friend or fold the laundry.
  • Relaxation strategies can reduce the feelings of tension and stress in your body. Practice strategies such as taking long deep breaths and focusing on your breathing, or progressively working around your body and relaxing your muscles as you go.
  • Learn assertiveness skills through self-help books or by attending courses. Being assertive means being clear with others about what your needs and wants are, feeling okay about asking for them, but respecting the other person’s needs and concerns as well and being prepared to negotiate. Avoid using words like ‘never’ or ‘always’ (for example, ‘You’re always late!’), as these statements are usually inaccurate, make you feel as though your anger is justified, and don’t leave much possibility for the problem to be solved.
  • Acknowledge what is making you angry. Sometimes it can help to write things down. What is happening in your life? How do you feel about the things that are happening? Writing about these topics can sometimes help give you some distance and perspective and help you understand your feelings. Work out some options for changing your situation.
  • Rehearse anger management skills. Use your imagination to practise your anger management strategies. Imagine yourself in a situation that usually sets off your anger. Imagine how you could behave in that situation without getting angry. Think about a situation where you did get angry. Replay the situation in your mind and imagine resolving the situation without anger.
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For more information on psychological services, check out the Australian Psychological Society website.

Source: The Australian Psychological Society – psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/anger

Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.