Anger is a natural and normal feeling or emotion that everyone is capable of feeling. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to perceived threats and it can inspire powerful feelings and behaviours that allow us to defend ourselves. A certain amount of anger can be appropriate and feelings of anger are common and healthy.
Anger can be seen as a warning sign; Our mind and body are telling us that something is wrong and we must deal with it in a healthy way. Ignoring the warning signs can result in expressing anger in unhealthy ways. If we do not deal with feelings of anger as they occur, hostility, aggression and chronic anger can develop; This would be characterized as someone experiencing anger all the time, engaging in very negative self-talk and negative consequences can result such as fights, police involvement and the loss of relationships can occur.
Many individuals express their anger by acting aggressively and this can be an instinctual response. However, there are healthy ways to express anger to ensure that we achieve an appropriate and safe outcome.
Anger can be viewed on a scale of 1-10. At low levels (Green Zone), anger is mostly cognitive or thought oriented. There is low physiological arousal and it is the safest level of anger. In the middle of the scale (YELLOW ZONE), Anger involves less cognition. Physiological arousal can become quite intense and there can be a surge in physical energy that comes from the fight or flight response that is being triggered. At high levels of Anger (RED ZONE), Anger is primarily behavioural and physiological arousal is at a maximum. In this stage, individuals can black out and are in full survival mode. There is potential for aggressive and abusive behaviours that could lead to injury. There is not any cognition involved when we reach high levels of anger.
It is important that coping strategies are implement at the GREEN or YELLOW ZONE because if we wait until our Anger has reached the RED ZONE, there is a risk that the fight or flight response has taken over any cognitive or rational thought. Any Anger that is allowed to reach the RED ZONE can result in extremely negative consequences that are hard to undo.
Pay attention to the cues or signals that can give you an indication that your anger levels are increasing. Some examples are as follows:
Physical Cues – how your body responds to anger
- Increase Heart Rate
- Tightness in the chest
- Feeling flushed or hot
- Sweaty palms
- Dry Mouth
Behavioural Cues – what you do in response to anger
- Clench fists
- Raise your voice
- Stare/glare at others
- Grind your teeth
Emotional Cues – other feelings that may occur along with anger
Cognitive Cues – what you think about in response to the event
- Hostile self-talk
- Images of aggression and revenge
- Thinking about how to punish others
Coping strategies for dealing with intense anger involve immediate and preventative strategies. This can ensure that you have a full toolbox! Be sure to implement these strategies before you reach the red zone of anger.
Immediate Strategies (things to do in the moment when you don’t have time to stop and think)
- Take a time out (walk away from the situation, remove yourself)
- Stop all abusive and unhealthy behaviours (cursing, pointing, yelling, threatening, etc)
- Take a few deep breaths
- Keep a list of brief statements to tell yourself (Slow down, my brain is lying right now, I am in control of this, breathe, stay calm)
- Try to rationalize some of the extreme and irrational thoughts (That person didn’t mean to cut me off, he probably just didn’t see me).
- If your thoughts are very negative and hostile, distract your brain from thinking about them (do another activity, think about something else).
- Use calming self-talk
Preventative Strategies (these are like taking your vitamins; continue to do these even on days where you don’t feel angry)
- Exercise (yoga, walking, etc)
- Address some of the trigger feelings you may have (along with anger, what else do you feel that is a trigger for you? Where did this trigger come from? If you can start to become more aware of your triggers, you can stop yourself from escalating just by acknowledging it).
- Express your feelings as they arise (it can be easy to stuff feelings and not tell others how we feel. However this can be unhealthy and result in big blows of anger. Express yourself to others even if it feels uncomfortable. Use “I feel _______, When you ______, and I Need _______)
- Learn to use empathy (empathy can increase connection between two people because you can take on the perspective of another person without having any judgement).
- Be Assertive (stand up for yourself without putting others down, ask for things you need, say what you mean in a respective and direct way).
- Use the Conflict Resolution Model (Identify the Problem, Identify the feelings, Identify the specific impact of the problem, decide whether to resolve the conflict, address and resolve the conflict).
- Understand that not every problem can be solved! Being able to let go of things in the universe that we can’t control is extremely important! (we cannot control if other people are bad drivers).
- Understand that sometimes Anger can make us feel like we have a false sense of control! If another person cuts you off in traffic, by retaliating you may feel better in the moment but this could lead high levels of anger for you and this lack of cognition could result in a fight, police involvement, etc. Thus, you are not really in control! Will you take the invitation to respond aggressively? We all have a choice! Choosing to retaliate in an unhealthy way results in us losing control of the outcome and our future.
Aziza Giga-Hirji MSW, RSW specializes in the areas of anger management and communication, as well as many others. For more information on Aziza, her work, or other articles she’s written for Living Well click here to link to her full bio page.