Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What To Do About This Pesky Anger...

Anger is an interesting and powerful emotion.  We have all felt it – perhaps as a fleeting annoyance or even as full-fledged, out-of-control rage.  Anger is a normal human emotion designed as a “red flag” to let us know something is causing us stress.  But when anger takes a hold of our life, it can lead to problems at work and in relationships.

Some experts consider anger a “secondary” emotion – meaning it is formed as a reaction to and cover-up for more primary emotions, such as sadness or fear.  It may feel easier or more acceptable to express anger rather than sadness or fear. It is therefore important to first understand triggers for our anger – what in our lives is causing us this emotion.  Is it irritability with rush hour traffic, or is it flying off the handle unexpectedly after the death of a loved one?  Both involve anger but the causes are very different.  It is often helpful to determine the true cause of anger and address it directly.

Here are some thoughts about anger, meant to help guide you in the right direction of addressing it:

  • Do you bottle up your feelings rather than expressing them?  Your anger may be an issue of learning effective and assertive communication to express feelings in an appropriate and timely manner.
  • Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings.  An example would be breathing in for 4 counts, holding your breath for 4 counts, and exhaling for 8 counts.  As you exhale, tell yourself a relaxing word, such as “peace”, “relax”, or “let go”.  Do this at least 3 times.
  • Rigorous exercise can help address anger – this is especially effective if the underlying cause is anxiety.
  • Changing your environment may be the key to address angry triggers.  This may become an “If all else fails” strategy.  For example – if it becomes increasingly difficult to control your road rage, consider public transportation.  If anger is a reaction to a toxic person in your life that drains your resources, it may be time to learn to set concrete boundaries.
  • Pick your battles.  One powerful tool to address anger is learning to distinguish between what we can and cannot change.  Then invest your energy into those aspects of your life that are worth the effort.  This may be particularly helpful if your anger is accompanied with a sense of helplessness or powerlessness.

If you feel that your anger is out of your control, impacting your relationships and important parts of your life, you might consider counseling to learn how to handle it better. A psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can work with you in developing a range of techniques for addressing and managing anger.  I am a Houston psychologist – to learn more about my services, visit DrGortner.com.