How to control your anger
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. However, it can be a problem if you find it difficult to keep it under control.
“You can control your anger, and you have a responsibility to do so,” says clinical psychologist Isabel Clarke, a specialist in anger management.
Recognise your anger signs
Your heart beats faster and you breathe more quickly, preparing you for action. You might also notice other signs, such as tension in your shoulders or clenching your fists. “If you notice these signs, get out of the situation if you’ve got a history of losing control,” says Isabel.
Count to 10
Counting to 10 gives you time to cool down, so you can think more clearly and overcome the impulse to lash out.
Breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and relax as you breathe out. “You automatically breathe in more than out when you’re feeling angry, and the trick is to breathe out more than in,” says Isabel. “This will calm you down effectively and help you think more clearly.”
Managing anger in the long term
Once you can recognise that you’re getting angry, and can calm yourself down, you can start looking at ways to control your anger more generally.
Exercise can help with anger
Bring down your general stress levels with exercise and relaxation. Running, walking, swimming, yoga and meditation are just a few activities that can reduce stress. “Exercise as part of your daily life is a good way to get rid of irritation and anger,” says Isabel.
Looking after yourself may keep you calm
Make time to relax regularly, and ensure that you get enough sleep. Drugs and alcohol can make anger problems worse. “They lower inhibitions and, actually, we need inhibitions to stop us acting unacceptably when we’re angry,” says Isabel.
Writing, making music, dancing or painting can release tension and reduce feelings of anger.
Talk about how you feel
Discussing your feelings with a friend can be useful and can help you get a different perspective on the situation.
Let go of angry thoughts
“Try to let go of any unhelpful ways of thinking,” says Isabel. “Thoughts such as ‘It’s not fair,’ or ‘People like that shouldn’t be on the roads,’ can make anger worse.”
Thinking like this will keep you focused on whatever it is that’s making you angry. Let these thoughts go and it will be easier to calm down.
Try to avoid using phrases that include:
- always (for example, “You always do that”)
- never (“You never listen to me”)
- should or shouldn’t (“You should do what I want,” or “You shouldn’t be on the roads”)
- must or mustn’t (“I must be on time,” or “I mustn’t be late”)
- ought or oughtn’t (“People ought to get out of my way”)
- not fair
Anxiety, fear and anger
Sometimes when people talk about “anger” what they actually mean is aggression, says Dr James Woollard, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist. “Often when people experience or appear to show anger, it’s because they are also feeling fear or perceive a threat, and they are responding with a ‘fight’ response to this.”
“Asking yourself, ‘What might I be scared of?’ can give you a different set of choices about how to respond,” says Dr Woollard. “You might be angry that something has not gone your way. But you may also be scared that you might be blamed or hurt as result. Recognising this might allow you to think and act differently.”
Read more on how to manage your anxiety.
“Managing your anger is as much about managing your happiness and contentment as your anger,” adds Dr Woollard. “It should be a part of developing your emotional intelligence and resilience.”
Domestic violence and anger
If uncontrolled anger leads to domestic violence (violence or threatening behaviour within the home), there are places that offer help and support. You can talk to your GP or contact domestic violence organisations such as:
Getting help with anger
If you feel you need help dealing with your anger, see your GP. There might be local anger management courses or counselling that could help you.
There are private courses and therapists who can help with anger issues. Make sure any therapist you see is registered with a professional organisation, such as the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy.
Anger management programmes
A typical anger management programme may involve one-to-one counselling and working in a small group. The programmes can consist of a one-day or weekend course. In some cases, it may be over a couple of months.
The structure of the programmes can differ, depending on who is providing it, but most programmes include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling.