Healthy Ways to Handle Anger

“Anger helps straighten out a problem like a fan helps straighten out a pile of papers.”

— Susan Mancotte

What makes you angry? Do you fume when someone cuts you off in traffic? Does your blood pressure skyrocket when your child refuses to cooperate? Regardless of what sets you off, anger is a common and even healthy emotion. Since you and I will undoubtedly feel it again, let me share some positive ways to express your anger. 

Charles Spielberger defines anger as “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.” I once heard someone describe anger as the response to a perceived injustice, and I relate with that description. When you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure often shoot up, along with the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline. Anger can be a normal, healthy, human emotion; but when it becomes out of control and destructive, it can lead to problems at work, in your personal life and relationships, as well as in the overall quality of your life. Uncontrolled anger can take a toll on both your health and your relationships…this unpredictable, powerful emotion can make you feel as if you are not in control of yourself. 

To put things simply, there are three general ways to deal with anger, in a nondestructive way.  First is to express your angry feelings in an assertive, not aggressive way. This is the healthiest way to express anger. In order to do so, you have to learn how to clearly vocalize what your needs are and how to get them met, while being respectful.  The second way to deal with anger is to suppress it. This happens when you hold in your anger, make yourself stop thinking about it, and/or focus on something positive (redirecting your anger). The goal here is to restrain or suppress your anger and convert it into more effective behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if anger is not allowed outward expression, it can turn inward…on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.  Third and lastly, you can force yourself to calm down inside. This means controlling your outward and inward behavior/responses, therefore taking steps to lower your heart rate, slow your breath, calm yourself down, and let the feelings abate.

See if you can identify if each of the following specific suggestions are examples of express, suppress or calm:

  1. Get some exercise. I know I suggest this as a remedy to everything, but it kind of is! Physical activity can help reduce stressors that can lead to anger. Whether it is a brisk walk, a quick dance session, rollerblading, swimming, jogging, fitness classes or whatever else, working out is a healthy way to keep anger at bay. 
  2. TIMEOUT! Timeouts are not just for small humans. Give yourself little breaks when you feel your stress mounting. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but a few moments of quiet time will help you feel more prepared to handle whatever is ahead of you without getting irritated or angry.
  3. Everything is figure-out-able.  Instead of focusing on whatever it is that made you mad, figure out a way to resolve the issue at hand. There is always a solution. Remind yourself that some things are simply out of your control; be in charge of what you can control. Be realistic about what you can and cannot change and remember that getting angry will not fix anything!
  4. Stick with ‘I’ statements. Instead of criticizing or placing blame (which only increases tension), use “I” statements to respectfully and specifically describe the problem. You could say, “I feel upset that you left the table without helping with the dishes” instead of, “You never do any of the cleanup after meals!”  It is difficult to do this when you are angry, but using “I” statements is a life skill that will help you all-around!
  5. Away with grudges.  Did you know that holding onto a grudge only prolongs the anger that (in most cases) ONLY affects YOU? Forgiveness is a powerful tool. When anger and other negative feelings crowd out positive feelings, you will be swallowed up by your own bitterness. Forgiving someone who angered you will release you from being consumed by negative emotions, and free you up to feel happiness and strengthen relationships.
  6. Use humor to release tension. Using humor to help you face whatever is making you angry is a healthy (and often quick!) way to diffuse tense situations. Be certain to avoid sarcasm— it can hurt feelings and make things worse.
  7. Zen. When your temper flares, it is time to put relaxation skills to work. Practice deep-breathing exercises or mediation, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase (such as, “take it easy,” or counting up to or down from 10). You might also listen to music, take some time to purge your feelings by writing in your journal or do a few yoga poses—do whatever it takes for you to feel a little more relaxed!
  8. Let it out. Did you know that physically throwing something can relieve stress and be helpful in the immediate moment? Throw a ball, balled up socks, toilet paper, or something similar or smash something (like a box or something you need to get rid of) to quickly release anger.  Sometimes it is healthy to scream or cry and just let all of your emotions out. As usual, writing your feelings out in a journal or safe, private space is an amazing way to handle anger and frustrations. 

Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to passive-aggressive behaviors,  resentment, relationship problems, personal health issues and more. Holding on to anger mostly affects YOU.  The beauty is that you and only you are in charge of managing your anger, and you CAN do it! Next time you start to feel your blood pressure rising, I encourage you to get some exercise, take a timeout, find a solution, express your frustrations with “I-statements”, forgive, use humor, find your zen and/or release your frustrations. Do not let your anger get the best of you!

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.

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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.