In moments of calm, when we think about being angry or experiencing anger, the memories that come to mind are often on the same theme: a response to feeling hurt or attacked. In general, if we reflect on times in our lives where we were really angry, they were related to specific incidents. But lately, things have not been quite the same as usual. Lately, we may have found that we feel angrier. That we are angry more often. That we are more angry more of the time!
And we might be feeling really bad about it.
If you are among those of us who have been experiencing increased stress, decreased patience, and the heightened emotion of anger throughout the past two years, you’re definitely not alone. We are seeing more and more people dealing with anger as a common occurrence. Studies have shown that U.S. adults have experienced prolonged stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. United States citizens are not alone; globally, the results are similar.
The last thing we need, when we are upset, is to become upset about how upset we are. This is why telling someone, “Just calm down,” or “You’re overreacting,” has the opposite effect. I am not here to tell you that you shouldn’t be angry, that you should just forget your stress and sadness and anxiety. I am here to tell you that you’re not alone in feeling this way. You are doing the best you can in an ongoing unprecedented situation, and you’ve been at it for almost two years. Understandably, you are tired, probably too tired to fight your anger off when it comes for you. Unfortunately, accepting and validating that you are not alone in your anger doesn’t make its impact on your life any easier. Being angry is a volatile place to be; anger overrides our rational thought and taxes our bodies. It’s an exhausting emotion to sustain physically, mentally, and emotionally.
When Anger Becomes a Problem:
1. When your anger is hurting your relationships:
Not only does the state of anger deplete you mentally and physically, but it can also make a big impact on your relationships with other people. Being angry often means that you are coping (or not coping) with it to those around you. This can create problems at work; people might find you difficult to approach or work with. It might strain your friendships; you may speak without thinking, leave little room for the other person’s feelings, or have a tendency to misunderstand what others say and do. Anger also hurts your romantic relationships because it takes an especially large toll on anyone you live with. There is little to no space to decompress and process if someone is right next to you. You may find yourself easily irritated by behaviors or picking fights because you are depleted of your patience after trying to be professional at work all day.
2. When anger starts to control you:
Is your anger keeping you up at night? Anger has a tendency to get your heart beating faster. It’s not as easy to drift off to a peaceful sleep with your heart pounding in your chest. Mentally, you may also spend time ruminating on why you’re so angry, what you wish you’d said at the moment, or what you wish you hadn’t said.
Anger has a way of leading to rash and impulsive words, actions, and decisions. Being angry overrides our ability to be calm and measured. It is like being afraid; the body goes into survival mode, meaning it is ready for a fight. If something doesn’t go your way, or someone doesn’t say the right thing, you can easily snap and do something you regret later.
3. Anger leads to other destructive behaviors:
No matter how angry we are and how justified our anger feels, we don’t want to be angry. A telltale sign that your anger has become a problem is when you turn to harmful coping mechanisms to deal with it. You might
self-medicate through substance use, gambling, or excessive video gaming. Things you might have done for fun or in the past are now used to excess and as a means of survival rather than for pleasure. You may also find yourself being more reckless: driving fast, picking fights, chasing an adrenaline rush.
There is no way to go through life without ever being angry. Especially in these times, where our stress is high, and our energy is low, we will find ourselves more prone to anger or encountering anger more often. The goal is to keep better control of our anger by understanding it. This includes knowing and dealing with our triggers by letting go of past resentments that can exacerbate our anger at the moment. Taking these steps doesn’t completely eliminate the chances of feeling anger but rather reduces them. Difficult emotions are like climbing up a hill. A hill every once in a while is manageable; we know it will end, we haven’t had to do it in a while, so we’ve got the energy, we don’t feel condemned to constantly be climbing. If we are always in a state of difficult emotions, our lives become a series of hills, with not enough rest between them. We accept that this challenging state is the default, we become fatigued, and we can’t see a way out of it. It does not have to be like that! You can take steps to have a more peaceful relationship with your anger.
Are you ready to work on your anger? Do you want to learn better skills to manage your emotions? Individual therapy in our office in Woodland Hills or online anywhere in CA using CBT and DBT skills to help you improve your anger management.
5 Tools to Control Your Anger
1. Understand when anger becomes a problem:
To discover where your anger trips you up, you have to learn the patterns that make it a destructive emotion in your life. Is it specific people, places, or situations? If it is specific people, is there something to unpack and heal there? Is it when you don’t get enough sleep or don’t leave work early enough? You might struggle with the feeling that you don’t get enough time to yourself or that you’re not supported by others enough to focus on your self-care. Is it when there is an unexpected change in schedule that makes you feel out of control?
Anger is often an emotion that we experience in place of fear or sadness because we feel safer in an angry space than a frightened or depressed one. Find all the places and spaces that incite anger in you; take a neutral inventory so that you know what you’re working with.
Also, explore what you do that makes anger a problem. Is it the yelling or the way you shut down? Is it the way that you bring up everything going wrong when you’re angry? Is it that you keep all your anger inside, letting it eat away at you? How does this impact your relationships, job, hobbies, sleep, and energy?
2. Explore the emotions behind anger:
The belief is that anger is a secondary emotion; meaning behind anger, there is another emotion that is your primary one, i.e. fear or sadness.
Research has also shown that men typically display depression through anger. Therefore, when seeking therapy for adolescent or adult men for irritability, poor impulse control, and anger outbursts, it is important to discuss the potential for underlying untreated depression.
Knowing what makes you angry, you can begin to investigate your “why.” It’s easy to say, “Of course that makes me angry; it would make anyone angry!” But actually being able to name what hurt you is a vital tool in processing your anger. For example, I’m angry because it hurt my feelings when my husband brushed off what I was saying. This incident hurts because I didn’t feel listened to; I felt inconsequential. I always listen to others, so it offends me to not be extended the same courtesy. Also, when I was growing up, my family talked over me a lot, so this is a soft spot for me. This thought process is not to be used as a means of spiraling but rather as calm space as possible to understand your emotions.
Upon meditation, you may be able to separate the trigger of your childhood from the current situation, as well as the comparison of your treatment of others to their treatment of you. How can you heal the ruminations of your past to experience things better in your day-to-day life?
3. Process past life experiences related to your anger:
Processing past events don’t only mean working on your triggers. It could include past life events where you learned toxic anger, such as witnessing parents arguing or watching your mother “explode” once a week. It could include the way your coach would use his anger to mentor the team or a teacher who was particularly sharp with students.
How did you see anger modeled for you during your formative years? Do you see any parallels between those behaviors and your current expression? This can be tough to come to terms with; it feels bad to think about repeating behaviors that we resented or feared as children. However, it is important to remember that we learn everything by observing. Expression of anger is no different.
Be kind to yourself about it, identify what changes you want to make, and forgive yourself for adopting a behavior you’re not proud of.
Processing past events also require looking at your past and identifying any unresolved issues and/or feelings that are the primary emotion we discussed in the previous step. For example, a colleague manipulated and cheated their way through promotion at your previous job. You felt betrayed and frustrated by the outcome, as well as used and abused by the colleague. Now, in your current work setting, you get impatient, irritable, and argumentative with others very quickly. Clearly, you are still carrying the past experience that is affecting how you see others today. Behind your anger lies feelings that have not been fully processed and healed yet. You deserve to take the time to heal from these events and move past them.
Do you want to process past life experiences so it doesn’t take a toll on your life? Do you need help sorting out past events? Individual therapy with a CBT therapist in Woodland Hills, CA can help you identify and reframe thoughts so as to build confidence and have a better connection.
4. Adopt healthier emotion regulation skills:
Being overwhelmed by emotion can get the better of any of us. The key is to consistently work toward regulating our emotions through conscious effort and deliberate reflection. This can mean that you spend time meditation, which can be guided or not. You may also enjoy the process of journaling; you can get everything out onto the page without thinking about it or take the time to reflect as you write. These ongoing practices can assist you in reducing your pent-up stresses, making regulation easier in the moment. Seeking more work-life balance, making more time for self-care or solitude, and adopting a self-compassion practice are all healthy options for regulating your own wellness that are based in mindfulness.
But what about those times when your anger is incited? Deep breathing can help to calm your heartbeat and relax your nervous system. It also gives you a moment to think before you speak or act in a way that you will regret later. You can also buy this time by walking away, with or without explanation; a simple “Excuse me” is enough if it’s all you can manage.
5. Challenge your thoughts that feed into the anger:
Unhealthy thinking exacerbates a whole wealth of problems, and that includes anger.
Anger can slip out of our control when we adopt all-or-nothing thinking that relegates everything about our experience to being negative. This is a form of catastrophizing: “Everything is terrible, and will continue to be terrible.” This mindset has a way of magnifying the negatives. We focus so much on what has gone wrong that that is all we are able to see. We believe that our current state will be permanent.
An effective Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tool is to learn to identify, challenge, and reframe negative thoughts. The way you think impacts how you feel and act, meaning that thinking of events is either strictly good or bad and then leaning into that perception can quickly create a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we are positive, this can be a good thing. But when we are feeling negative, it can become very bad very quickly.
The last thing anyone who is upset wants to hear is that they should “just not be upset anymore.” But the truth is that there is a decision-making aspect of emotional regulation: we have to at least decide to try not to be upset anymore and then take active steps to utilize the tools at our disposal to get there. Anger can be extremely destructive; it is physically transformative and hard to shake. But before you say, “I can’t control my anger!” try considering that the first thing you have to control is the way you think about being angry. You have the tools to do so, and you deserve the peace that comes with letting your anger go.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with one of our Client Care Coordinators.