Managing anger in healthy ways
While society often tells us that we should not get angry, anger is a normal human emotion. What is important for us is to learn to manage anger in healthy ways. This does not have to be difficult, and it can help us become healthier overall.
Common causes of anger include frustration, hurt, annoyance, disappointment, harassment, threats, fatigue and feeling overwhelmed. Anger does not actually make our “blood boil” or make us “see red,” but our bodies are affected.
Physical reactions to anger include the release of adrenaline and other body chemicals into the bloodstream, as well as the heart pumping faster, blood pressure rising, faster blood flow and muscle tension. The body shifts into high gear, generating energy for needed action. The challenge is to learn how to use this energy in healthy ways.
Many people are taught to ignore anger, but this can have many negative consequences, including health problems (e.g., high blood pressure, heart problems, headaches and stomach problems), accidents, tension and anxiety, relationship problems, depression, criminal behaviors and abuse/violence.
Instead, it’s best to embrace a healthy strategy for managing anger. Try the following:
- Recognize common signs of anger (muscle tension, being accident-prone, feeling frustrated or depressed, sarcasm).
- Identify the cause of your anger. This may or may not be obvious. For example, you yell at your friend when you are actually upset at someone else for forgetting about a date.
- Decide what to do. Take positive steps to resolve the problem that caused your anger. Try not to let angry feelings linger and fester.
- Calm down before you discuss issues. Shouting just tends to lead to more shouting. Take a temporary time out to calm down, if needed.
- Be assertive, not aggressive. Express yourself firmly and clearly. Do not get personal – no insults, accusations or name-calling. Communication, negotiation and compromise are important.
- Use humor to help you change your perspective.
- Get physical. Physical activity – walking, biking, weight-lifting – can help dissipate the energy associated with anger.
- Get enough sleep and relaxation. When we are tired, we can get cranky.
- Learn relaxation skills (deep breathing, meditation, muscle relaxation).
- Write about your anger, then throw away the writing.
- If your anger is out of control, talk with a trusted friend or a counselor.
Anger managed in healthy ways can be motivating; it can help you reach goals, solve problems and handle emergencies. Learn to make your anger work for you.
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About the Author
Dr. Judy Ronan Woodburn is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with Advocate Medical Group – Behavioral Health in Normal, Ill. She has helped her clients through a variety of issues for more than 20 years.