When someone is asked to think of a difficult emotion, anger might be the first one to come to mind. Anger doesn’t feel great in our bodies. It might make our throat tighten, our palms sweat, and our hearts race. Unleashing anger might feel good momentarily because you’re letting go of pent-up energy, but it can have extremely damaging effects if not let out in a healthy way. Angry words can hurt people – angry actions even more so.
It’s okay to feel angry. Really – it is. Anger is your body and mind’s way of signalling that something is not right and that you need to pay attention to what’s wrong right now.
The trick is being able to tap in to your intuition so you can work through the anger and address what’s causing it. Anger is a secondary emotion; it is always caused by something else. When you can identify what’s causing it, you can begin to work through and let go of anger.
Think of a movie you love with a very angry main character. There’s probably a catalyst moment in the film where the actor sprints down the street in the rain, gets in to a physical or verbal fight, or enacts some sort of revenge on the person or people they’re angry with. Now, what does that person do after they’ve lashed out? 9 times out of 10, they cry. The anger needed to be released so they could address the underlying emotion that was causing them to be so angry: sadness, jealousy, frustration, etc.
Holding on to anger or releasing it in ways that are harmful to yourself or others can be hugely detrimental to our well-being. When we feel angry, our adrenal glands produce cortisol (aka “the stress hormone”). This can help us greatly if we are, say, being attacked by a bear and need to defend ourselves. The trouble comes when cortisol is being released in to our bodies constantly. High cortisol levels have been connected to sleep disturbances, weight gain, mood swings and depression, and more.
So, what do you do when you’re angry? Your response will depend on a number of factors: who you’re with, where you are, your overall emotional state, and how equipped you are to deal with what you’re feeling. Here are a few over arching tips for dealing with anger:
RELEASE | The first thing to do when you’re feeling angry is to figure out the best way to release it so you can work through what’s causing it. This is a good time to tap in to those self-care tools you have available – but they may need to be tweaked depending on what you need. You know yourself best! What helps you let go? For some, it’s screaming in to a pillow. Others go for brisk walks or runs, dance with abandon to a favourite song, or swim laps at the pool. You could also call a safe person to vent or write all of your emotions down in a journal that no one will read. It’s important to note that if you’re with the person who’s making you angry, going for a run or writing in a journal might not be available to you. Take some calming, deep breaths if you can, or consider just walking away or telling the person you’re with that you need some time to yourself.
ADDRESS WHAT’S CAUSING THE ANGER | Did your loved one say something that made you want to explode? Did a doctor tell you you’ll have to wait even longer for a referral? This is a great time to use “I feel” statements. Take a deep breath, and let them know how you’re feeling. This prevents the other person from becoming defensive, and can help them to address your needs. Read more about “I feel” statements here. If you’re alone and notice you’re feeling angry, or that you have been feeling that way for awhile, really take some time to think about what’s causing it. Often, it’s that you’re sad or frustrated at a situation you don’t have control over, or feel that you don’t have control over. You could be grieving changes in a loved one, or feeling frustrated because so much is being asked of you.
MAKE A PLAN | If your anger is in response to a particular event, addressing why you’re feeling the way that you are with the person or people involved can help prevent it from happening again. If, however, your anger is due to underlying or lingering issues, it’s time to make a plan to help prevent you from reaching a breaking point again. For example, maybe you’ve realised that you’re feeling angry because a lot is being asked of you and you have not had a break. If this is the case, look in to respite, or create a plan with family members to delegate responsibilities.
Managing anger is a complex process, and you do not have to do it alone! Remember to reach out to a caregiver support program, counsellor, or therapist if you’re needing some more support.
What do you do to manage anger? We’d love to hear and learn from you!
Cassandra Van Dyck