What has help’s people cope with anger
- Validation and empathy
Self-awareness and greater understanding about what is going on in our brain and how our life experiences and sensitivity have impacted that has led us towards feeling more compassion towards myself than I did when I was younger.
Therapy has also helped me validate my feelings and thoughts, when perhaps they were dismissed (and not always intentionally) in my younger years by parents, teachers or peers. When thoughts and feelings are ignored, dismissed or even ridiculed this can result in feelings of injustice, shame and self-loathing and this is what may trigger dysregulated emotions like anger.
Having someone validate the way you feel or think in a situation and not make you feel strange or odd about that, can be a positive step in being able to think or act differently in the future. Not having our feelings validated may even lead us to resist changing our behavior.
When people show empathy, you can be much more likely to be receptive to their suggestions. For me having a therapist say to me, ‘‘I can understand why you would have reacted like that in that situation, that must have been really frustrating for you’’ is the validation I have needed to try to improve my behavior. It is also realizing that every human being is flawed and makes mistakes, and you are not a terrible person.
- Expressing and being assertive
One thing that may lead to feelings of invalidation is feeling like you are unable to express your feelings or opinions because you are afraid of how others will react. This may be because there’s been a history of them not validating your views before. I was often afraid of stating my view as a child and young person so I’d let a feeling boil up inside me, which would then come out in a dysregulated way later e.g. in an anger or crying outburst.
To avoid feeling anger and resentment of not being able to express myself when I want to, I see if I can express myself in that moment in a non-angry way. I can be assertive without letting this turn into an argument.
- Self-care and breathing space
I know that if I am tired, frustrated, stressed, hungry or upset, I am more like to be easily triggered in an anger provoking situation. I’ve found it helpful to try to prevent angry outbursts by making sure I get enough sleep, nutritious food and regular exercise to regulate my emotions.
As someone who likes to be in control to the extent that I sometimes get involved in things I needn’t be involved in, I can find my capacity is nearly full most of the time – which is why it’s so easy for me to react in outburst. I’ve learnt the importance of making time to relax and enjoy things. You cannot be on the go all the time and stay emotionally regulated – not just in your 9-5 job but also working on side projects, as I often am.
Your body needs space to do nothing and be calm. To play as well as work.
- Self-protection and reflection
You could also take the time to think and reflect on what situations may make you more vulnerable to anger and protect yourself from them in the future. For instance, for me I have taken the time to realize that I am triggered by crowded, loud, chaotic places and people who are acting in a way that I find selfish or inconsiderate. I need time alone to recharge and recover after overstimulating situations. I also prefer individual or small group interactions where I feel more secure and validated, so I limit the amount of time I spend in large group situations.
As a child or young person, being overwhelmed in large group situations could lead me to sulk or withdraw. This behavior on the outside may appear to others to be childish or passive aggressive, but inside I was feeling extremely uncomfortable, upset and sometimes desperate to get out of that situation.
I used to feel hopeless about my anger and easy irritation with things. Thinking that was just the way I was, and I couldn’t ever change it. I used to feel immense amounts of shame after an episode of emotion dysregulation, almost feeling horrified by the person I had momentarily become.
Mindfulness (meditation) was my savior in 2014 when I took an eight-week course after work and experienced for the first time, without drugs, a state of complete and utter peace, still and calm. Mindfulness is available to all of us. There are apps for it, there are YouTube videos for it, there are courses for it. I can’t recommend it enough.
People who feel hopelessly trapped in an anger cycle need to feel they can change, and mindfulness can provide that hope for some.
Something else that helps take the edge off my emotion dysregulation, sensitivity and tendency towards anger, is medication. I take the smallest possible dose of my antidepressant. This allows me to absorb more serotonin, the brain’s happy chemical, and allows me to tend less towards irritation and negative feelings.
When it comes to medication for your mental health it is important to seek advice from a professional, whether it be your GP, psychiatrist, or community pharmacy before you go onto it, change it, or reduce it.
I have also been seeing a psychotherapist for many months now, and she has been invaluable for me. She has helped me to understand why I am dysregulated, what steps I can take to become less so, and for the first time ever has allowed me to feel properly validated, self-confident and understood. This has enabled me to remove a lot of the shame, low self-esteem and self-loathing from my life which all contribute to my anger outbursts.
Having someone to talk to who understands you, either a trained therapist, or just an empathetic, non-judgmental friend may help to mitigate the emotional turmoil going on inside if you are someone that tends towards dysregulated angry outbursts. Therapists can help to mentalize what is going on in your life and why you behave a certain way, offer insight and perspective and recommend coping strategies and long-term behavioral change.
- Handling difficult conversations
Taking a step back and pausing
I’ve realized as I’ve got older that when I’ve got into heated arguments with family members or others close to me, it’s sometimes been because I’ve been too personally involved in the debate and unable to step back and see it from the other person’s perspective. I struggled growing up with assimilating my identity with the thing I was defending, whether a rock band, famous person or political view. I felt offended if people didn’t agree with me about something because I felt my fragile identity was attacked.
In order to avoid heated situations with someone who has opposing views, I’ve learnt the hard way that taking a breath and pausing before reacting and not taking on the role of trying to overprotect the thing you are defending, is key.
Stopping before you speak
Rows with people can fracture relationships. If you are unable to calmly state your view, then it may be best to try to ignore what is being said or leave the situation politely until you feel calmer. Debates that start off being about a political view or opinion can soon turn into a personal argument if people feel attacked. This is unpleasant for all involved. I’ve had to swallow my pride and learn some humility.
Anger management courses can often teach people to stop before they speak. This is of course easier said than done for people who are easily triggered but practicing mindfulness (bringing yourself into the present and not running away with your thoughts or feelings) may help.
Active listening and resolution
Sometimes people can feel hurt or offended by how we’ve behaved towards them, and we should also be willing to listen to them and try to understand how they feel, not get defensive and invalidate them as this will exacerbate ill-feeling and not lead to a resolution in the relationship.
- Art and exercise
So many people find expressing their anger in creative ways or letting off steam through exercise helpful. Doing an activity, whether creative or sporty, can be a way to distract your mind from the anger you feel, and a way of positively channeling and removing the stress hormones that anger generates. For me personally, I use art to regulate my emotions. I love to paint abstract art. My art is simply what comes out of my head and on to a canvas. It is therapeutic and it distracts me. It also gives me a sense of pride and achievement, to replace the negative emotions that anger fills me with.
- Music and sound
When you’re emotionally dysregulated, an emotion that most people would feel for a short time period becomes a mood that can last the whole day. Your behavior can be very mood dependent. When I’m feeling particularly angry or frustrated, there are certain songs I listen to that help me get that anger or frustration out. I love rock and metal; I also love techno and electronic music. Dancing in a club to music or listening to music loudly after a stressful day, can be the medicine that I need.
It’s also essential that I always have access to music in public, to stop me getting angry and irritated by loud sounds. At night when I’m trying to sleep, I also use ear plugs, so I’m not frustrated by a neighbor or street noise.
If I’m feeling down or fed up, sometimes I play the guitar and sing, to express the emotions I need to express. Music is cathartic because the people writing it are often expressing their feelings. Being able to connect to people’s words and songs is powerful and can help you to process your own feelings.
- Writing and avoiding online debate
I also like to write to get my frustrations out. I write poems or blogs to express how I feel. But I have to steer clear of getting into angry debates on social media about issues that I care about, as this almost never makes me feel better, and almost always gets me into a horrible conflict situation which makes me feel even worse. If you’re really angry about an issue in the news, then you could consider having some time away from it. You could have a break from TV or / and social media or unfollow accounts or news sources that may trigger feelings of anger in you.
- Taking control of what you can, accepting what you can’t
This might seem like an obvious one, but it’s something that has helped me mellow out over the years. Sometimes my anger and frustration are caused by an underlying fear that I can’t control things – humans destroying the environment, the way people feel about me, my relationships, people being selfish and inconsiderate in public, the high cost of living, injustice and inequality in society etc. Sometimes letting go is what you need to do to let the anger dissipate.
Becoming more accepting and tolerant
My anger and arguments with others have often stemmed from my ideals not marrying up with reality. My positives are altruism, leadership and reliability, but I can sometimes feel easily let down and disappointed because I can be overly idealistic or too selfless and too sensitive. This can lead me to be angrier with the way things are and more motivated to change things than the average person.
I tend to be someone who wants to sort everything out and can exhaust myself by doing so. I have had to force myself to relax more, not put too much pressure on myself and not expect too much from others. I’ve also had to be more accepting of the fact, with the help of therapy, that there’s only so much I can do to help the causes I care about and not to feel guilty. I’ve also had to accept that a lot of people don’t think or act in the same way as me and I may care more about things.
Being more tolerant in distressing situations, accepting that you can’t change the world on your own, you can just do what you can, and that it’s ok to just do nothing sometimes, has helped me enormously.
Planning, preparation and being present
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more sensible with things like money, accommodation and career choices, lifestyle choices, to feel more in control and less overwhelmed in the world. I’m as organized as I can possibly be as this limits my stress levels, and when something goes wrong now, I try to be present and rational in my response and accept that it will be fine, rather than going to my old default place of anger, fear and irritation.
If you can realize that some of your anger might be down to a fear of losing control, recognize that this is what’s happening and try to teach yourself to put things in perspective more this may help you. You can’t control what happens to you, only how you respond to it.
- Choosing how to channel my anger
Ultimately, we all feel anger in our lives. It is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. How we choose to channel our anger is the most important thing. Use your anger to fuel creative expression, lobby for positive change, write words that will inspire people, make changes to your circumstances that would make you happier and avoid trigger situations.