Coping techniques: Anger management

Please note that you should always consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet, your level of exercise and activity, medication or behaviors related to substance use.

The best way to make use of these techniques is to read through them, select three that stand out to you and practice them. I would be glad to hear from you on your responses.

  1. Anger is a normal and adaptive response. The goal is to manage it effectively.
  2. Pick up responsibility for your anger and your actions. Responsibility is power.
  3. The purpose of anger management is not to repress anger but to increase the ability to refrain from acting out—behaving in automatic ways. As you refrain from automatic responses your brain develops new neural pathways.
  4. The impulse to anger lasts for approximately 90 seconds. What causes the angry state to last much longer is feeding it. What we feed it are the stories, images and inner statements we reflect on over and over again.
  5. Therefore when you find yourself triggered by an event, at first just notice how you process it. Do you continue to review it many minutes after it happened? So that long after the event has ended you’re still reviewing? Notice how this affects anger. What about events you’ve been reviewing for weeks? For years? All of your life?
  6. Here’s a simple experiment. When something happens that you respond to with anger, as you notice that you continue processing and reviewing it so that the anger increases, stop yourself. Don’t continue trying to bring the review to a satisfactory conclusion, or shift into a fantasy about what might have or should have happened—just acknowledge the review and interrupt it. Deliberately focus on an event that didn’t make you angry, that was associated with feeling calm, or safe, or appreciated instead. This will be one of your own memories so choose something compelling. You might want to select such a memory ahead of time, to be prepared. Focus on this memory. Review it several times, the same way you might choose to listen to a new favorite song several times. How does focusing on something positive make you feel, in your emotions and in your body?
  7. Take care of yourself—get the amount of sleep you need, schedule relaxation time into your day and week, get the exercise that’s appropriate for you.
  8. Increase your awareness of contradictory feelings towards the people close to you, such as a fear of being abandoned and a discomfort with closeness.
  9. Because both venting and repressing anger are associated with increased anger, practice stating your needs in an effective manner—both assertive and respectful. Use “I” statements. Assertive communication means to express your rights and needs without ignoring the rights and needs of the person you’re speaking to.
  10. Because rigorous physical activity such as kickboxing or punching a pillow correlates with increasing the level of anger, consider using less rigorous exercise such as yoga, jogging or swimming to decrease levels of arousal.
  11. Consider whether anger is the feeling you’re having. Feelings of shame, fear, grief and vulnerability often receive more repression in some families and communities than anger, and are therefore riskier to acknowledge. Men especially are socialized to find only two emotional states acceptable—anger and desire. Often the other emotions get channeled into one of these two and experienced in that way. Consider whether anger is acting as a safer substitute for what you’re feeling more deeply.
  12. Identify times in the past when you’ve been hurt. Review what happened. As much as possible release those feelings, perhaps by forgiving yourself for being vulnerable, or for another person for hurting you.
  13. Decrease the chances of being surprised by anger. Identify the things that act as triggers. Assess the environment you’re about to enter for how likely it is to contain triggers. Decide whether you have a need to enter an environment with a high number of triggers.
  14. When you have to enter an environment that’s likely to have triggers in it, make use of positive self-talk. As you approach the environment: “I can handle this.” As you’re in the environment: “Keep breathing. I can stay relaxed.” As you leave: “I feel good about the way that went. Even if I got angry I didn’t act out in a way that I regret.”
  15. Decrease the practice of priming yourself to be angry. Notice when you practice negative self-talk, ruminate on times in the past when you felt wronged or indulge in an angry or violent fantasy. Interrupt these as you notice yourself entertaining them.
  16. Notice what happens to your body as you become angry, such as increased heart rate, feelings of tension in your shoulders or chest, or shaking.
  17. Increase your reaction time. As you recognize the physical sensations that accompany anger count to ten before responding. With higher levels of arousal consider limiting your exposure to the trigger, such as by taking a break or going for a walk. With even higher levels create a space you can access in order to decompress. Some aspects of such a space could include dim lighting, calm music, a place to practice meditation or yoga.
  18. Practice deep breathing to decrease physical feelings of tension.
  19. Put off making decisions when you’re angry.