Depending on you cultural and familial background, expression of anger may not be acceptable. However, it is helpful to separate the experience from the expression of our feelings. Being aware of our feelings, including anger, can give us useful information about people and situations. When you experience anger, it is a cue to tell us that there is something wrong, threatening, or annoying, and it is a signal for us to make some changes. Anger can also give us energy and vigor, and can mobilize our body for self-defense. Although the feeling of anger in and of itself may be helpful, it can become a problem if we do not properly express it.
Warning Signs of Anger
It is helpful to know when you first become angry, so that you can prevent your anger from escalating to a dysfunctional level.
Our bodily reaction to anger is very similar to when we are stressed. Mentally scan your body & notice whether you have some of the following:
- Tension in chest, stomach, jaw, head
- Increased heart rate
- Increased or decreased breathing
- Snide or sarcastic remarks
- Verbal and/or physical assaults
- Withdrawn, becoming quiet, or giving cold shoulders
- Difficulty sleeping or eating
- The belief that you've been harmed
- Or, others mean to do you harm
When you get so angry that it leads to you hurting others, or when it disturbs your work or relationships, then anger is leading your life instead of informing you. Below are some tips.
Reduce Your Anger BEFORE It Escalates
- Remind yourself that your thoughts may or may not be accurate; examine your options
- Assume that others have the best intentions
- Write in a journal as a way to vent, or a way to think through solutions
- Talk with a trusted friend or relative to gain perspective
- Learn to be assertive, instead of aggressive
- use calm, low tone, and slow down your speech rate during any interchange with another person;
- use "I" statements;
- identify your specific emotion in the moment to explain why you are upset;
- request or negotiate for what you want by identifying specific problem behaviors (not using adjectives or guessing at attitudes) and request specific behavioral changes;
- do not exaggerate by using such words as "always" or "never";
- repeat appropriate requests in a calm manner.
- Reduce Your Anger ONCE It Occurs
Although you may not be able to affect change in another person who may be contributing to your anger, there are steps you can take to reduce your own anger:
- Take a few moments to take deep breaths all the way down to your stomach, holding it a few seconds, and then slowly let out your breath. Do this 5 or 6 times.
- Take a time out (maybe 5 to 10 minutes, or perhaps longer depending on individual preferences):
- Do one or more of the suggestions listed in the previous section.
- If you are with someone when your anger escalates too much, you may want to say, "I don't want to say the wrong thing because I am so angry right now. You are an important person in my life, so I need to take some time to think about what we have been talking about. I would like to continue this conversation in about 10 minutes (or suggest a later time), so can I meet you back here?" If the other person doesn't allow you that time off, you may want to leave anyway after stating above.
- Briskly walk around the block.
- Do some jumping jacks or sit ups to exert that excessive energy built up from escalated anger.
- Make sure to have that follow-up meeting with the other person, if your anger got in the way of a conversation.
What NOT to do
- Do NOT use alcohol or drugs to calm yourself; these have other detrimental effects and can decrease your health and performance in the long-run. They can alter your judgment and you may also say or do the wrong things in the moment.
- Try NOT to take your anger out on someone else.
- Do NOT use generalizing adjectives or labels (e.g., "always," "never," "lazy," "idiot," ...) when talking about someone.
Come to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in the Student Wellness Center, Room 300B (third floor), to learn more anger management skills and to further understand what may be contributing to your anger. If your anger is impacting your academics, we also have educational counselors who may help with your educational performance. Our personal counselors are available for appointments and walk in crisis counseling. Please call us at 408-924-5910 to schedule an appointment or for more information.