Learning To Manage Anger: Coping Skills And Techniques

Updated October 6, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anger is something all of us experience from time to time, but for some it becomes problematic, all-consuming, and dangerous for both themselves and others. This article will walk you through some of the basic coping mechanisms one can use when learning to manage their anger, regain control, and find healthier alternatives of emotional expression.

Learn How To Cope With Destructive Anger

First Things First: Is All Anger "Bad" Anger?

The first thing someone struggling with anger needs to do is determine whether their anger is constructive (or "healthy") or destructive in nature.

Constructive Anger

Constructive anger is beneficial in that it's justified and promotes healthier and more positive outcomes in a situation, such as fighting for change in an unfair situation or defending yourself or someone you care for in a situation that calls for it. Examples of this might include fighting for social change or standing up against abuse or bullying, whether it's for yourself or on behalf of someone else.

Destructive Anger

Destructive anger is very much the opposite and leads to damaging behavior such as physical altercations, verbal outbursts, and other harmful forms of expression. Destructive anger triggered by someone being in a hurry but stuck behind a slow driver on the road could lead to reckless driving, endangering all those within and outside of that person's vehicle. It can likewise include being so tired or stressed out that the first person to even mildly annoy or cross the individual would be snapped at and treated cruelly for no merited reason.

While healthy and constructive anger is something that should still have an eye kept on it to make sure it's utilized safely, destructive anger is the type we'll be addressing when learning coping skills.

What Does Destructive Anger Look Like?

Destructive anger can look like many things. It can be an angry reaction that is far stronger than reasonable for the circumstances. It can be a physical or verbal outburst so unbridled that the consequences could lead to jail time or even termination from a place of employment. It can also be abusive behavior towards yourself under the guise of a coping mechanism, but a very poor and unhelpful one such as those involving intoxication or self-harm as an outlet. Sometimes it may even be as simple as "constant" anger that doesn't go away after some time or that pops up so frequently that it consistently decreases your quality of life.

How to Deal With Anger In The Heat Of The Moment

When at all possible, it's best to avoid acting on anger immediately when provoked unless the well-being of yourself or another is at stake. Looking at the differences above regarding healthy and unhealthy anger, there is a time and place when having and expressing anger is appropriate.

Remove Yourself From The Situation

The quickest and easiest way to prevent an escalation is to remove yourself from the situation. If your emotions feel like they're on the rise and you become aware of your body's signs regarding adrenaline and anger building up, do what you can to remove yourself from the situation. Sometimes this may be simply excusing yourself from a conversation or meeting that requires confrontation, but one that may also require you to calm down a bit before interacting with the other person or people involved. Sometimes there are situations which do not necessitate your interaction, and from those, you should simply excuse yourself and avoid the risk.

Learn How To Cope With Destructive Anger

Diffusing Rising Anger

If you feel provoked by something around you, it often can help to try to find humor in the situation or to simply take a moment to yourself to practice cooling down exercises, such as repeating a calming phrase, counting, or focusing on your breathing. These tactics may often seem impossible and "annoying" while you're already feeling agitated, but many have proven useful in helping individuals calm down before their emotions reach a critical level of intensity.

Preventative Coping Skills And Techniques:

What Can You Do On Your Own?

Whether you may currently be unwilling or simply unable to seek professional help for how to deal with anger in your life, there are still quite a few options available for you to try on your own.

Identify Your Triggers

A simple task but beneficial to those dealing with anger-related difficulties is to identify your triggers. A trigger is something that sets off an emotional reaction of an intense manner; in this case, anger. If at all possible, when experiencing provocation, take note of what is setting you off. Is it a word or phrase? Is it a specific situation? Is it a person or group of people? Is it a certain feeling that sets off an anger-fueled defense system, such as feeling pressured or degraded in some way? Is it more about your mindset before dealing with stimuli, such as being overtired or already under stress from work or a home situation?

There can be one or two things that are the main cause, which can then be focused on in the context of how to avoid or cope with said triggers and therefore coping with anger in general. However, there may also be many small things that would point to a larger 'umbrella' issue causing so much to seem so catastrophic, such as an undiagnosed condition, exhaustion, or not having coped with another situation that may be affecting both your behavior and reactions to the world around you. (An example of a larger cause might be grief, such as not having coped with a loss or devastating event in your life.)

Making a list of defined and even possible triggers can help you discover what may need to be avoided or handled differently (if not avoidable). It will also help you to reflect on unusual triggers that may also make you aware of something underlying that you did not realize was an area of concern, therefore presenting you with the opportunity to delve into it and reap further overlying mental health benefits in the process.

Self-Care + Stress Reduction

Another simple and at-home recommendation for learning to manage anger would be to focus on self-care. Life is busy and hectic for most people, and rarely does one have the time to let themselves rest or relax. Find ways to unwind, whether it be a hobby, exercise (which is great for boosting endorphins that will help you feel better in general), reading a book to get away from reality for a while, playing a video game, or taking a hot bath to relieve bodily tension. Your mind needs a break as well as your body. Neglecting to care for either has many negative short-term and long-term effect, both physically and mentally. Meditation is a great option as well.

Learning Mindfulness

If you're unable to seek professional help and find yourself going at it alone, mindfulness is one of the most promoted forms of psychological therapy used today and can easily be done without the help of a professional.  Mindfulness generally focuses on the concept of "being in the moment." There are numerous tasks and mental checklists to assist you in becoming observant, stepping back from the situation or mindset that is currently setting you off, and providing yourself with the time and opportunity to be objective about your situation and may allow for a different reaction to be chosen.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Self-Guided)

Cognitive behavioral therapy is something that is best done with the guidance of a professional, but it's not difficult at all to acquire the reading material and workbooks to pursue the benefits of learning how to rewire yourself and your reactions to the world and stimuli you come into contact with. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is very much like mindfulness in that it helps you to become more observant regarding your surroundings and interactions and learn appropriate coping mechanisms, encouraging further emotional development and regulation of your emotions.

What About Seeking Professional Help?

One of the great things about seeking out the assistance of a mental health professional is the insight they can provide on how to deal with anger via counseling. By simply having an outside source, in this case a therapist or other professional, listen to your troubles and help you process them you're able to gain another perspective on issues you may feel too emotionally provoked by or too close to do so by yourself.

Some triggers are too intense to simply "step back" from and observe on your own but having another person that is capable of pointing out and showing you key factors or important details, you may be missing along the way can be of great benefit. Not only may you see things from a different point of view with their help, but there is always the potential to find the true source of a trigger rather than what you've just assumed to be the cause at face value. With this information brought to light you can then begin the process of coping and healing properly and making significantly more progress overall, in both anger management as well as mindfulness, in your day to day life.

In some cases, anger may not be the primary problem you're dealing with, but merely a symptom of something else. Depression doesn't always look like gloom and doom; it can also be expressed in other ways, and one of those is via angry outbursts. Whether it's just anger in general, a symptom of underlying depression, or potentially even a more serious diagnosis if your chosen mental health professional notices more traits that weren't initially identified as related symptoms, it's always best to seek professional help to be sure you're getting the proper treatment and advice for the correct problem you're dealing with.

With BetterHelp, this option is now available to you for your convenience online where licensed therapists are able to assist you.

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