Editor’s Note: Anger can be an incredibly pervasive and overwhelming emotion and unfortunately, not always swayed by logical advice such as what follows. Please treat the following ideas as things which you could try out and practice when you are not angry so that if anger arrises you are now better prepared to deal with it using one of these ideas. Recurring and overwhelming anger is very often the result of past trauma or neglect. While it is not necessary to know what those traumas are, the best practice is to learn how to stop the effect that this trauma is having on the body and mind. The editor recommends that you check out a book called ‘In an Unspoken Voice‘ by Peter Levine. I am not an affiliate and do not get paid for recommending this book. I recommend because it is an immensely helpful and beautiful book for understanding your current and past experience of life and your emotions. This article is not a substitute for guidance from a professional who is experienced in helping people to neutralize overwhelming emotion, such as in the work of Peter Levine and others.
It’s a bit of a cliche (and not an accurate one) that men are more subject to anger than their female counterparts – but it is true that men aren’t taught how to control and manage their anger in the same way that a lot of women are. This can result in counterproductive behaviour followed by a lot of nasty guilt when we get angry. Anger is not necessarily a ‘bad’ emotion, but, unless we can learn to manage and control it, it can have very bad results.
So it’s well worth learning a bit about anger, and working on some strategies to deal with it when it comes along. Of course, every person is different, and the strategies listed here may not work for some as they will with others. But this quick guide should give you a few ideas to get started:
Remember That Anger Makes You Stupid
The best anger-management strategies nip anger in the bud. This is because anger is a very powerful, very old emotion which in many ways pushes our brains back to an earlier evolutionary stage. When you get angry, your brain is hit by a tidal wave of chemicals and hormones, including adrenaline, noradrenaline, and testosterone. The purpose of these chemicals is to reduce inhibition – which they do by effectively bypassing your brain’s front temporal lobes.
This knocks your inhibitions out in seconds – anger does not, as many people think, make you stronger or ‘braver’, it simply takes away your natural inhibitions against over-exerting yourself or getting into dangerous situations. Thing is, your front temporal lobes are also responsible for higher cognitive functioning. Dulling them down with anger chemicals literally makes you less intelligent. Anger is therefore great for facing down a saber tooth tiger, but not so great for conducting debates over social media. It’s worth noting that being angry is a lot like being drunk.
Your inhibitions and intelligence are similarly compromised. The best way to prevent yourself from getting drunk is to refuse drinks. And the best way to control anger is to stop it before it has a chance to switch your brain off.
Speaking of alcohol…
Don’t Drink In Angry Situations
Alcohol and anger are a dangerous combination. The two fuel each other in a self-perpetuating cycle, until either you exhaust yourself, you sober up, or you get arrested. If your inhibitions are already lowered due to alcohol, you’re more likely to respond to the kind of provocation you’d otherwise ignore, and thus get into situations which see your anger levels rising dangerously.
As we’ve covered above, anger, like alcohol, knocks your inhibitions for six and reduces your ability to think straight. With alcohol in the mix as well, you’re looking at a situation which could escalate incredibly fast, and which you’ll almost certainly regret once the power of rational thought returns.
Of course, it’s not always easy to predict when you’re going to be in a potentially anger-making situation, but if you think there’s a chance that you could lose it at an event, it’s probably best to maintain a degree of control by refusing drinks on that occasion.
If you know that you will likely reach for a drink next time you are angry. Make sure to prepare ahead of time. Throw out your alcohol. Tell your friends that you would prefer not to drink next time you are in a certain mood and ask them to be prepared to help you calm down, rather than drink.
Ok, this is a weird one, but some find that it really works. Think about the last time you had an argument with your partner while lying in bed. Chances are that, as the argument progressed, one of you got angry – and sat up to make their point more forcefully. You can see this happening with arguing people all the time – as they get angry they’ll sit up straighter, stand taller, or lean forward in a tense and terse manner. Your instinctive response when angry is to assume an upright, engaged position. This is natural – all animals try to make themselves look bigger when they’re angry or scared. Humans are no different.
It’s hard to look intimidating when you’re lying down. Some find that lying down, or deliberately assuming a very relaxed posture when they feel themselves starting to get angry confuses their anger instinct long enough for the anger to fade away. It doesn’t work for everyone – the ‘sit up when angry’ instinct is often too strong to be overcome – but it’s got to be worth a try!
In much the same way that lying down confuses your anger instinct, breathing calmly and steadily can convince your brain that you actually are calm. This is why things like yoga and meditation are so ‘relaxing’ – they mimic the symptoms of calm contentment, which in turn signals to the brain that everything is fine and there is no need for the anger or stress response they were gearing up to deliver. If you feel yourself at risk of losing control, concentrate on keeping your breathing deep and regular until the rage passes. Alternatively, try a ‘forced exhale’ (instructions here) – this requires some practice but can be a very effective anger short-circuit.