This urge to act, and not the emotion itself, is where anger can get us in trouble. Acting on anger with aggression can be damaging to relationships, finances and our bodies.
Here are some tips to channel that strong emotion into healthier communication and activities.
- Take a “time out.” Athletes, for example, take time outs from the game when it’s high pressure to think clearly and make a plan to respond to the stress.
- Distract yourself with something calming. You might listen to music while you take a drive to combine the “time out” concept with distraction. A time out is less effective if you spend that time out focusing on what caused your anger, so make time for pleasant distractions until you feel calm enough to analyze the situation.
- When you are ready to come back and reflect, separate the event that triggered the anger from the meaning you derive from it. For example, think “I was cut off in traffic” versus “That guy cut me off and disrespected me.”
- Anger is a secondary emotion. It often comes after a different, unpleasant emotion. Self-reflect on your hidden emotions. Did you feel disrespected? Scared? Embarrassed? By coping with and resolving these feelings, we often alleviate our anger as well.
- Find a trusted person and talk about what you’ve learned during your self-reflection. Start with the words “I feel…” and then insert the feeling you’ve discovered was under your anger. An example: “I felt disrespected when I was cut off in traffic this morning. I felt scared that there would be an accident or that I wouldn’t get to work on time.”
One final tip on anger: When times are tough, we do what we practice! If you typically cope with anger with an aggressive distraction like hitting a punching bag, throwing things, and breaking things, research shows that this is most likely how you’ll deal with struggle – even when there isn’t a safe or legal place to do so. If you’d like to change the way you handle anger, try practicing these tips during times of low anger so that it will come easier to you during times of high stress and anger.
Courtney Pohlman, MA, LMFT, CSOTP, T4C, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She uses a systematic approach to grow and heal families, couples and individuals recovering from trauma, anger, domestic violence and other struggles.
Courtney enjoys walking with clients on their healing journey, offering new perspectives, support, flexibility, humor, empathy and positivity. She believes passionately that we are always making new bonds and creating families.
Courtney is trained in many therapeutic methods, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). She serves clients age 5 and up in our New London and Menasha locations.