8 Ways to Manage Anger -- and Know When Yours Is a Problem

Look, we all get mad. It's just part of the human condition. But while some people get mad, others get hair-ripping, people-punching, steam-out-of-the-ears mad. The thing is, though, sometimes an anger problem doesn't have so many visual signs. So how do you know if you have a problem? And what do you do if you have one?


We talked to Perpetua Neo, a doctor of clinical psychology, master of philosophy, and chartered psychologist from Brighton, UK, to get our anger management 101. Here's what she had to say:

"You have an anger problem if you find yourself raging often at the slightest trigger, wanting to hurt someone or vent your feelings at objects, or are often preoccupied by (the many) things that seem unfair," Neo explains. "You feel as though you can go from feeling extremely calm to raging very quickly, and this is often provoked by things that wouldn't make others react as strongly."

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Neo also says it's a bad sign if someone else has ever pointed any of this out to you, or if you've ever hurt or scared others with your anger. If someone you love has sat you down and explained his or her fear of your temper, you should take that person seriously.

The good news is that an anger problem isn't insurmountable. Neo offers these tips for managing anger:

  1. Ask yourself what is your anger really about. "Anger is good because it protects us from harm," Neo says. "But when it tips over into a destructive force, anger may be masking something else."

    Neo says that sometimes, that mask is covering plain fear, but sometimes it's serious anxiety or depression. Exploring what your anger is rooted in is really the best way to deal with it in the long term.

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  2. Learn to treat your fear kindly. It might sound surprising, but Neo says her clients often admit that they jump from a trigger to rage to guilt really quickly, without ever stopping to consider those feelings.

    "They're afraid of looking vulnerable, so they bypass the fear stage and jump immediately into anger," Neo says. "During such times, pay attention to the parts of your body that are reverberating with anger. Acknowledge your fear, then keep breathing softly into it with the kindness that you would show a child or a pet."
  3. Take a time out. Neo says this is especially important for moms because it's so easy to take anger out on kids -- and so easy for that anger to stick with them in the long run. 

    "We say things we don't always mean when we're upset, and the young minds of children can misconstrue what's being said and form wrong beliefs about themselves and how they should behave," she says. If stepping out of the room for two minutes can save your kids negative memories that'll stick with them long term, it's worth it.

  4. Chant a mantra. "Have a phrase in mind that you associate with calming yourself down," Neo suggests. "Repeat it over and over in your head whenever you feel angry as a way to move your attention away from anger and into your mindful efforts to treat yourself better."

  5. Visualize a soothing image. This takes some work, and Neo recommends recognizing your anger first, then reminding yourself that you're stronger than it is. "With practice, your brain will learn to associate that image with calming down automatically whenever you are angry."

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  6. Know your triggers. "This requires commitment, but works wonders in developing self-awareness," Neo says. "Every time you feel angry, write down the date, time, trigger, and how angry you felt on a scale of 1 to 10, your thoughts, where you felt it in your body, and the situation. Over time, you'll be able to draw patterns."

  7. Practice mindful breathing. "Mindfulness takes us away from our wandering minds and into the present moment," Neo explains. If it's making you feel worse, you're probably doing it wrong, she says.

  8. Seek help. No one loves asking for help, but if you've hit a point where you're destroying your relationships, it might be time.

    "If you have become emotionally or physically abusive to someone else and would like to stop, the first thing to do is to forgive yourself and stop feeling guilty about it," Neo says. "It's easier said than done, so a therapist or coach can help you with those feelings."

For those in need of immediate assistance, call 911. Also available 24 hours a day, The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and the National Child Abuse Hotline can be reached at 1-800-4-A-Child (422-4453).


Image via iko/Shutterstock

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