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Understanding Anger and How to Manage It

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, NCC, LPC

Do you view people who get easily angered to be obnoxious and unreasonable? Well, in that case, you may want to continue reading. While we may dislike how people react to various situations when they are triggered, it is important to remember that anger is often a secondary emotion. What does this mean? Simply put, people resort to anger because it may be the emotion they are most familiar with or most comfortable expressing. Anger, however, is not typically the “real” emotion that the person is experiencing. It is simply the one on the surface, covering the deeper feeling; therefore, it is often the first one to be expressed. People who are angry might in fact be sad or scared.

Anger can also be an outcome of finding oneself in a vulnerable state and attempting to protect oneself from getting attacked. Have you ever heard of fight, flight, or freeze? These are the nervous system’s responses to a perceived threat. Anger can be a direct manifestation of the “fight” response. So, our nervous system and our brain may ultimately determine that there is an imminent threat, at which point our blood starts pumping, our heart rate increases, and before we know it, we may be speaking at a higher volume, slamming doors, or responding impudently. Unfortunately, and as many of us know, this rarely gets us anywhere. After the spell of anger wears off, we often feel guilty or embarrassed. So, what can be done to manage anger and calm the nervous system?

  1. Try to determine the root cause

The first thing you might consider doing if you often get carried away by feelings of anger is to identify your “triggers,” or the people, experiences, events, etc. that cause you to become upset. For instance, many people get irritable due to exhaustion, stress, lack of sleep, or interpersonal conflict. Once you are able to find out what it is that triggers you, you can then try to prepare for, avoid, or distract yourself to lessen the impact.

  1. Work on communication skills

Have you ever found yourself screaming or shouting when angry? If you look at this objectively, you may find that you simply wanted to be heard. But the real kicker is that the person or persons we are attempting to get our point across to often only attend to the tone and volume and completely miss our underlying message or need. Next time you feel as though you want to raise your voice in order to get your point across, take a step back, take three deep breaths, and consider using “I feel” statements to communicate.

  1. Practice deep breathing

Deep belly breathing is a quick and effective way to get the nervous system and ultimately the body to relax. So whenever a bout of anger arises, try bringing you awareness to your breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.

  1. Try meditation

Another promising way to curb feelings of anger or frustration is to learn to quiet the mind. When adopting a daily regiment of meditation, your mind ultimately learns to remain present rather than becoming swept up in rumination.

  1. Talk to a friend or therapist

When feelings of frustration, anger, or bitterness seem to be getting out of control, do not hesitate to reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or a trained professional. It is important to find a space where you can openly yet respectfully communicate your needs, wants, and emotions.

If you or someone you know is struggling to manage their anger, please do not hesitate to reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling today! They will pair you with a dedicated therapist in Chicago for support.

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