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

Coping skills

Take 5

Photo by Ari Alqadri on

By Katie Donahoo

Coping skills are the things you do help yourself manage and regulate your emotions in a moment of overwhelm or dis-regulation. Coping skills can be anything from taking a deep breath, coloring, or doing a physical activity. Often, coping skills are some of the first things individuals learn when coming into counseling. Many people do not know how to regulate their emotions and this can be what brings them into counseling in the first place. Not all coping skills are created equal and not all skills work effectively for all people.

The Take 5 is a version of a grounding technique I learned long ago. Grounding techniques are coping strategies that help to alleviate anxiety, panic, and overwhelm by utilizing the 5 senses. This strategy takes less than 5 minutes to complete and can be easily remembered by assigning one of your senses to each of your 5 fingers. By utilizing each of your senses you bring yourself to a physical and mental state of relaxation. Give it a try.

Sight: Take a moment to look around you. Find 5 objects and state out loud the name and color of 5 objects. For Example – green grass, brown chair, orange leaf, blue house, red shirt.

Sound: Close your eyes and tune into your sense of hearing. Listen closely. Can you name 5 sounds you hear? For Example: a car driving by, foot steps, ticking clock, male/female voice, papers rustling.

Touch: Walk around the space you are in and find 5 various objects that you can touch. Pick up each object and speak the description of how the object feels in your hands. For Example: velvety pillow, rough rock, smooth and cold table top, waxy leaves on a plant, the heaviness of a blanket. Alternatively you could tune into your body and identify things you feel touching your body in this moment. For Example: wrist watch, back against a chair, rings on your fingers, shoes on your feet, waistband of your clothing, etc.

Smell: Look closely at your surroundings. Can you find 5 things to smell? Quick tip; they do NOT have to smell good. For Example: lotion, chapstick, room spray, your shoe, the trash can, etc.

Taste: While difficult in some settings finding 5 different tastes can be very helpful. Challenge yourself with this one. For Example: describe the taste in your mouth before tasting anything else, gum, candy, chap stick on your lips, soda, tea, coffee, water, salt, sugar, etc.

Did you try it? How do you feel? Pretty silly I’d imagine if you weren’t experiencing any anxiety when you tried it. As with most skills, the effective use of coping strategies increases with practice. The more frequently you check in with yourself and utilize a skill the better you will be able to implement it during a time of great need. Challenge yourself to have some of the harder to find items required for this kind of strategy with you in the places where you experience the most anxiety: school, work, in your car.

If you struggle with recurrent panic attacks please seek professional help in managing your symptoms. Severe anxiety and panic attacks can be extremely disruptive to life function. Help is out there. Help is here. Reach out to Blue Elephant Counseling by registering for a free consultation today.