Anger is commonly referred to as a surface or secondary emotion. On the surface we present as angry, but underneath there can be a gang of other emotions driving the rage truck. Anger is so extremely functional for us as humans; it allows us to defend ourselves from other emotions that we may not be willing/ready to acknowledge or deal with, it protects us from being vulnerable with other people, and it is powerful (think Hulk status- no one wants to mess with him).
First step’s first, the best way to cage your rage is to understand it. Do a quick inventory (I find it helpful to journal or write lists on sticky notes, but whatever floats your boat): why do I feel angry? What was the specific behavior or words someone did that inspired this feeling of anger? What am I feeling underneath the anger? Common emotions to consider: hurt, embarrassed, insecure, guilty, lonely, unworthy, invalidated, disrespected, and scared just to name a few. Inventories often help us find the source and sometimes even the ultimate solution to resolving our anger. For example, if you really feel like your husband forgetting your birthday is making you feel unvalued in your marriage, maybe the solution is to put a stink bomb in his car and charge the new earrings on his credit card. However, addressing the root is hardly ever that simple when strong emotions are present. Like being angry at your father for always making you the black sheep of the family or feeling angry about feeling stuck in a career that doesn’t bring you fulfillment.
Sometimes taking time to be mindful of why you are angry is enough to manage the emotion, but when it doesn’t seem to tame your rage monster, try these quick tips
Perhaps the most popular technique, shifting your perspective onto something else can help manage the strength of your feelings. Go take a bike ride, watch a movie, take a nap, play a game, search “humor” on Pinterest, call a friend, clean, listen to some music, play air guitar, or the real guitar if you’ve got one, bake, shoot hoops, or my personal favorite: give yourself permission to TREAT YO’ SELF whether that be to a movie or that donut you’ve been trying to avoid all week. Think about what you like to do or things that capture your attention and take action! It’s ok if you still feel angry while trying to distract yourself, just try to shift your full attention into your distraction.
Mindfulness techniques are very helpful when your mind is being invaded by rage monsters and their evil thoughts. A lot of times we become angry about something that has occurred in the past when our memories are triggered or take things out of proportion. Our thoughts are so intertwined with our emotions and one way to shift our thoughts is to bring them back to the present moment. There are several different mindfulness activities, but a quick and dirty way is to bring attention to your five senses in the current moment. Where are you? What do you see, feel, hear, touch, and smell? Take time to focus on each of your senses and ground yourself into the here and now. Another quick tip is to focus on your breathing for a full 3 minutes; put a timer on your phone and breathe deeply and consistently until it rings. When your thoughts start to wander, just bring your attention back to the anchor of your breath.
Force an Opposite
It is extremely challenging to be angry when you are feeling grateful… or silly, or happy, or love. Force an opposite emotion into your brain to war with anger and force the rage monster out (even if it’s for an hour). What are thoughts or activities you can do to force an opposite? Can you close your eyes and think of the funniest memory you have? Can you list 5 things you are grateful for? Can you dance it out in your office while no one is looking?
Some of these techniques may seem ridiculous to you, and that’s ok! Some things may work and some may not; we are all so unique and experience emotions in different ways. Hopefully one of these techniques can be added to your anger management tool box and help you manage this powerful emotion.
P.S. These are just techniques to manage your anger, not to resolve it. Have you ever gone to sleep pissed and then woke up in the morning and realized how silly your reaction to something was in the first place? Or still felt angry but had much more clear thoughts about it? Yea, these tips are like that.
Counseling can be another great tool to explore the depths of your emotions and help you lead a more controlled and enjoyable life. Anger can be toxic to daily living and is one of the most common issues counselors can support you in resolving. Consider a counselor if you feel anger is becoming destructive in your life.
Author: Kayla Coughlan MSW, LCSW is an individual and couples counselor in Wilmington, NC. She has a passion supporting people to find meaning and fulfillment in their lives and relationships.