Stay In Control Of Your Emotions: How To Release Anger
Updated October 25, 2018
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, usually healthy emotion. Experiencing it from time to time is normal. The emotion itself isn't the problem; it is how we handle it. Finding how to release anger appropriately is an important step in personal anger management. It stabilizes our moods quicker, prevents strains on relationships, and keeps us from doing something we may regret later.
What Is Anger?
According to the Mayo Clinic, anger is a natural response to perceived threats. Anger is a survival instinct that activates the body's fight or flight reaction. This causes a boost of adrenaline and noradrenaline making senses acuter. It also increases the body's heart rate and blood pressure. Muscles tighten, and the face and hands begin to flush. Often anger inspires powerful, sometimes aggressive feelings and actions to defend ourselves when we feel attacked.
Anger could be triggered by both internal and external factors. Some of them common, while others are unique to the individual. External triggers are a result of outside influences in our lives such as people or events. Examples include 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.
Why Are Some People Angrier Than Others?
We all know people who get very angry when even the smallest things don't go their way. They quickly shift from calm to raging when triggered. Their intense emotional responses give them labels like "hot-headed" or "short-tempered." Others feel like they are walking on eggshells when around these individuals.
Those easily angered have a low tolerance for frustration. This means they feel like they shouldn't be subjected to frustration, annoyance, or any inconvenience. People with a low tolerance for frustration become enraged when a situation seems unjust to them. They have a much harder time taking anger triggers in stride.
What makes them this way? 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. Children are growing up in families that are chaotic, disruptive, or not skilled in expressing emotions often have a harder time managing anger.
Dealing With Anger
The Mayo Clinic talks about three typical categories in which one deals 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
Some people choose to suppress their anger in hopes 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 the coronary disease compared to calmer peers. If you are more prone to being angry, some changes in how you deal with the emotion can help your heart. Constructively dealing with anger, like using assertive communication, wasn't associated with heart disease.
- A greater stroke risk. One study found angry people had 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.
How To Release Anger
There are several techniques people use to release their anger. Since each person is different, it's best to try a few of these ideas and see which ones work best for you. Remember, anger is not a bad emotion, but your reaction can make it negative.
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 flight state of alertness. A few deep breaths, it helps activate a calming reflex in the body. Practice the following techniques often so they will be easier to apply when anger strikes.
- Focused breathing. 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 counting to four, hold the breath for a count of four, then exhale counting to four. Count to four as your rest, then repeat as necessary.
While you are deep breathing, it may be helpful to imagine a relaxing experience or 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 necessary.
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 is best to walk away from your source of anger simply. It could be permanent or temporary, but, if possible, 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 no longer serving you. One way to do this is getting a balloon filled with helium. Go outside and take a few deep breaths. Hold the balloon tight and imagine all your anger and resentment being transferred to the balloon. When ready, take a deep breath and release while letting go of the balloon. Watch the balloon disappear into the sky.
Will the balloon 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, the picture that balloon is 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 making thoughts irrational real quick. 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.
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, Better Help offers affordable, online therapy sessions from licensed and accredited therapists. They can help with anger and a variety of other mental health concerns.