Coping skills

How To Control Your Anger in 4 Steps

By Katie Donahoo

Photo by Vera Arsic on

Do you lose your temper easily? Have people close to you said you have an anger problem? Is it just too easy for you to scream, yell, and in general lose your cool? Then this article is for you. Anger is a universal emotion experienced by all people at one time or another. Some people are able to grit their teeth a bear it, others lose their shit at the slightest provocation. So what stops some people from flying off the handle while others struggle to control themselves? 

First, it helps to have an understanding of anger. Anger is a normal human emotion experienced by all people. Anger in humans is complex as we experience anger in response to a wide variety of stimuli: thoughts, experiences, events. And, as humans, we can get angry at ourselves over our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This self directed anger is different than what you would in any animal. You would never see an animal get angry at themself for napping when they should be working. 

To better understand anger think of a tree: deep roots, a tall trunk, and a wide breadth of leaves. The tall trunk and the breadth of leaves represent the observable parts of anger such as screaming, cursing, breaking things, verbal and physical aggression, and so on. In children you might see crying, biting, or temper tantrums. However, beneath the surface lies the true roots of anger: fear and pain. Think of these terms in the most broad sense. Fear for safety and physical pain can be included but we are talking about the psychological and emotional sense as well. Consider fears around loss of esteem or regard, losing face or embarrassment, the fear of abandonment. Do the same for pain. Consider the pain caused by other peoples words and actions, the unfairness of life, the loss of a loved one, or your own anxious or depressed thinking patterns, the ending of a significant relationship or career. 

Think back to the last time you were angry and ask yourself the following questions. What was causing me pain in that moment? What was I most afraid of in that moment? Was there another root emotion I was feeling? Have I felt these pains or fears before? 

These questions can be difficult to answer but I’m betting you will see the root of your anger in a new light. Understanding the root of your anger is the first step in controlling your anger. When we know what our fears and pain points are we can better identify our triggers for anger and, therefore, control our responses by managing our emotions more effectively. The goal should not be to never feel anger. Anger is a part of the human experience. A better goal would be to increase your control over your anger so your anger can no longer control you. 

When working on managing your emotions effectively it is helpful to consider the things that impact your daily life such as environment, physical health, attitude, and expectations. Consider, for example, the impact on your anger if you were feeling tired, in an environment that was overstimulating, if you were in an irritable mood, and if you then were let down by a co-worker who was supposed to bring the presentation you had been working on but they lost their computer. So many factors play into our everyday lives. Think about the variables listed above and where you can gain awareness around what triggers your anger. If understanding anger is step 1, then awareness around your own personal triggers is step 2. Recognizing the physical, mental, and behavioral warning signs for your anger. Do you clench your jaw or fists? What muscles tighten when you first start to feel irritated? Does your heart rate increase or your body temperature rise? Does you breathing change? Are your thoughts running a million miles per hour or circle round and round fueling your anger? 

Once you gain awareness of your triggers and warning signs you can begin to practice and implement coping strategies to help manage your emotions and self care strategies to help decrease you sensitivity to your triggers. Having a regular sleep wake routine, eating right and exercise can be helpful to maintaining emotional health. Managing expectations or avoiding specific triggering situations and help you to balance your responsibilities with unexpected triggers. For example, if you stayed up late with friends and have to work the next day you might make sure to fit in your morning work out to get your blood flowing for the day. If you are a person who doesn’t like crowds and loud sounds you may choose to walk to work or get an Uber rather ride the bus or subway. You might choose to prioritize a healthy lunch on a day when you know you have an important meeting that might run late. 

Another way to manage anger is to challenge your thinking. Is my anger justified? (Have your rights been violated or are you just disappointed?) Is my anger displaced? (Am I taking my angry feelings out one someone or something that had nothing to do with the original source of my anger?) Am I taking things personally? Am I over reatcting to something that is outside of my control? Am I expecting too much of others or myself? Who can I talk to about my anger?

Anger has a way keeping you stuck in your problem and making if difficult to get out. Talking with a trusted friend, loved one, or a counselor can help you manage your anger more effectively. Exploring alternatives or ways you have solved issues in the past with another person can help you get un-stuck. Once you begin working on controlling your anger don’t forget to reward yourself for the small wins on this journey. 

Step 1: Understand the Root of Your Anger

Step 2: Gain Awareness of Your Triggers

Step 3: Implement Coping Strategies and Self-Care

Step 4: Reward the Small Wins

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