Stay In Control Of Your Emotions: How To Release Anger
By Sarah Fader
Updated September 20, 2019
Reviewer Avia James
We've all had those weak moments in our lives. Times when our anger got the better of us. We reacted in ways we later regretted or found embarrassing. Maybe it was when someone wronged us or when a situation didn't go our way. Exhaustion or overstimulation prevented us from acting rationally. Whatever the reason, we felt the fire in our bellies, tight jaws, and clenched fists. Our hearts raced, and our focus became solely on what angered us.
Anger is a common emotion and can be healthy when it's handled correctly. But sometimes it can feel so hard to keep it under control. Learning how to release anger appropriately can help you stabilize your moods, have healthy relationships, and improve your health.
Anger can be triggered by both internal and external factors. External triggers are a result of outside influences, such as a coworker spreading rumors about you or a person cutting you off in heavy traffic. Internal triggers involve brooding about personal issues or obsessing on negative experiences from the past. Learned behaviors, inherited tendencies, and brain chemistry may also play a role in the severity of anger.
Being easily angered can mean you have a low tolerance for frustration. You may feel like you shouldn't be subjected to frustration, annoyance, or any inconvenience. This can cause you to have a much harder time taking anger triggers in stride. But the good news is that you can absolutely learn how to control your anger. Research shows that therapy is able to help 75% of people that struggle with anger management problems.
Why Are Some People Angrier Than Others?
It could be a number of things. Genetics and physiological factors tend to play a role, even at an early age. Some children are noted for being more irritable and easily angered. Learned social and cultural behaviors may also affect someone's ability to handle anger. If someone is taught expressing anger is bad or rude, they may suppress their anger or lash out when they can't handle the emotion any longer. Finally, the family background can play a role. People who grow up in families that are chaotic, disruptive, or not skilled in expressing emotions often have a harder time managing anger.
Not only do people deal with anger for different reasons, but they also deal with it in different ways. The Mayo Clinic talks about three typical categories in which people deal with anger:
- Expression: This is how you convey the message of being angry. Expressing anger could range from reasonable, rational discussion to lashing out in a violent outburst. The healthiest way to express anger is being assertive rather than aggressive.
- Suppression: This involves holding in angry emotions in hopes of converting it to more constructive behavior. Suppressing anger turns your anger inward which can affect your health and well-being.
- Calming Down: By controlling your outward behavior and managing your internal responses, you could allow the intense emotions to subside. This involves knowing yourself, how anger affects you, and coping strategies that work for you.
The Dangers of Suppressing Your Anger
As discussed above, some people choose to suppress their anger in hope of the situation changing or simply going away. Suppressing anger can have significant impacts on your health, including:
- Increasing the chance of heart disease. Those more prone to angry outbursts were at twice the risk of developing coronary disease compared to calmer peers. If you are more prone to being angry, some changes in how you deal with emotions can help your heart. Constructively dealing with anger, like using assertive communication, wasn't associated with heart disease.
- A greater risk of stroke. One study found angry people had a three times higher risk of having a stroke after an angry outburst.
- Weakening the immune system. The stress hormones released when a person is angry can weaken the immune system making a person more susceptible to colds, the flu, infections, or even cancer
- Increasing anxiety and depression. Suppressing anger and not resolving issues can cause a person to fixate on specific triggers. This could lead to higher incidences of depression (especially in men). Also, the hostility of having internalized, unexpressed anger is a major contributor to more intense generalized anxiety disorder symptoms.
Learning to Control Anger
You know that anger is a problem for your physical health, mental health, and relationships. What can you do about it? There are several techniques people use to release their anger, discussed below. Remember, everyone handles anger differently, so try the following tools to determine which method works best for you.
Physical activity is a great way to release anger and put yourself in a better mood. The chemicals released in the brain while doing physical activity are natural mood stabilizers. Working out also lets you redirect the anger into a healthy activity. Though exercise may not solve the problems that got you angry, it will neutralize the difficult emotions so you could think more clearly about solutions. Some great physical activities to try:
- Running, jogging, or a brisk walk
- Lifting weights
- Hitting a punching bag (or a pillow)
- Playing your favorite sport
Physical activities are great, but you can choose any activity you truly enjoy. Doing things which fully absorbs your attention will put the anger at bay and leave you feeling better.
Breathing exercises are an easy way to calm down from the body's fight or heightened state of alertness. Taking a few deep breaths helps activate a calming reflex in the body. Practice the following techniques often so they will be easier to apply when anger strikes.
Practice taking slow, controlled breaths. Imagine the air going in through your nose all the way to your belly. Follow the breath as it leaves your body. Another great deep breathing exercise involves mentally counting. Inhale while counting to four, hold the breath for another count of four, then exhale counting to four again. Count to four as your rest, then repeat as necessary.
While you're deep breathing, it may be helpful to imagine a relaxing experience or a pleasant memory. Try to picture it with all of your senses. For instance, if you imagine yourself on a beach, mentally hear the waves, feel the sun on your cheeks, smell the ocean air, etc.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Slowly tense and relax each muscle group one at a time. This will help your body feel more relaxed from anger's muscle tightening response.
In addition to these techniques, guided meditations can help calm anger or other emotions. Several websites offer guided meditations for calming the nerves. You could even install a meditation app on your smartphone to use whenever needed.
Write It Out
Sometimes writing thoughts and emotions on paper helps get them out of your head and puts them in perspective. Consider journaling, creating poetry, or writing a letter or email to someone who wronged you (that you may or may not send). Writing helps organize your thoughts and may provide insights into the situation. When you write, don't just focus on the negative or adverse aspect of the event or situation, try to brainstorm solutions or how you could handle things differently in the future.
Let Go of the Person or Situation
Sometimes it's simply best to walk away from your source of anger. It could be permanent or temporary, but either way, it can be helpful to take a break from the triggers consistently causing you anger. If you need to end a relationship or find a different job, do it. Change is not always easy, but it is necessary if the situation is causing you significant anger.
If something or someone in the past keeps triggering angry thoughts and memories, consider using a symbolic ceremony to help let go of the anger. One way to do this is by getting a rock that can fit in your hand. Ideally, you should do this next to a body of water. Go outside and take a few deep breaths. Hold the rock tight and imagine all your anger and resentment being transferred to the rock. When ready, take a deep breath and release while throwing the rock as hard as you can, over the water. Watch the rock disappear into the water.
Will the rock ceremony (or similar ones) solve all your problems? Of course not. It could, however, be the first step to changing the way you think about a troubling situation. For example, say you're struggling with anger over a bad breakup. Each time you start to fixate on how that person wronged you, instead of thinking more about it, picture that balloon containing your anger disappearing into the sky. It symbolizes your commitment to move on and change your thinking.
Change the Way You Think
When you're angry, it's easy to fall into "black-and-white thinking" and perceiving things are much worse than they are. Cognitive restructuring can help you replace negative thoughts with more rational ones. Some tips for changing your thinking:
- Avoid words like "always" or "never" when thinking or talking about the person or situation making you angry. These absolute words justify your anger and alienate others trying to help you find a solution.
- Understand anger has a way of quickly making thoughts irrational. By taking a few of the breaths above then trying to determine if your thoughts are irrational, such as "everyone should like me," or "the world is out to get me." Replace the irrational with more logical, constructive thoughts.
- Translate expectations into desires. It's easy to demand fairness, appreciation, etc. when angry. That doesn't always sit well with others. Don't believe you deserve everything. Request your desires to others. It may not always work, but this type of assertive communication will help get your point across in a much more amicable manner.
Develop Your Support Network
If you struggle with anger, finding an appropriate support network could be the difference between lashing out at the world and constructively releasing anger. Turn to a family member, close friend, or partner that has an empathetic, rational approach to helping you vent your emotions.
Of course, not everyone in your social circle will offer proper support. Some people could enable or validate your angry thoughts, making the emotion more intense. Find someone who is not quick to take sides, has a calmer demeanor, and has a proven history of talking you out of irrationality.
How Professionals Can Help
Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of a supportive friend or loved one. Many people struggling with intense anger turn to therapists and counseling. Therapists are trained to provide a person with insights into their thought processes, how to release anger, and changes they could make to constructively and assertively deal with anger.
If a traditional therapy setting is not right for you, BetterHelp offers affordable, online therapy sessions. They can help with anger and a variety of other mental health concerns from the comfort of your own home. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Josh has been really helpful to me and helping me find ways to control my anger. I am more positive now and it's all thanks to Josh for helping me get strategies."
"Krysten has been an immense help in dealing with and confronting my anger and depression issues. I started to notice immediate changes in my general disposition within a week of working with her. My friends and family have even said I seem less bitter and jaded. And the fact that I can communicate with her frequently has done wonders in keeping me on track and progressing forward. My time working with Krysten and being on BetterHelp has been a positive experience and done much more for me than traditional in-office therapy ever did."
While anger is a normal emotion, it can be one that's difficult to manage. If you're struggling with anger management, the tips in this article can help you make the positive changes that you need in life. A counselor can help you stay on track, while you move at a pace that's comfortable for you. Take the first step to healthy anger and fulfilling relationships today.