Grrrr! How to keep that anger in check
Anger is one of the most fundamental and primeval emotions that we have. Experts believe it’s been hardwired into our brain, a hangover from our ancestor’s need to fight off threats and find enough resources to live.
The aggression that comes with anger is often seen as a very ‘male’ emotion, something that women shouldn’t be, but as society gets more and more manic, it seems women are showing their anger more freely.
I don’t need a study to show me this, I’ve experienced it first-hand. I’ve been sworn at and threatened by a grandma, been told I was one step away from a punch by a young mother and witnessed many a road rage incident from a fellow female.
If I’m really honest, I’m also a hotbed of rage myself. I don’t know whether to blame my perimenopausal state for this entirely. I think a lot of anger us women are facing is down to a constant need to be ‘on’.
There’s no switching off these days. Employers expect answers to emails out of office hours. Kids can no longer roam around safely on their own and so we are expected to be by their side constantly. Despite equality being touted by pretty much everyone, the emotional effort that goes into juggling work and family life, is still pretty much borne by us women. I know that my other half doesn’t remember to test my son’s spellings, or buy a present for a party he’s got coming up, or remember to check if his football kit is clean for match day…
While you don’t want to be arrested for GBH on your next door neighbour over a parking dispute, anger can actually be a really valuable thing. Would the whole #MeToo movement have ever happened if women didn’t get angry?
Lynette Evans, a integrative counsellor and psychotherapist at The Listening Helper, believes when used correctly, anger is actually a positive emotion.
“It can give us energy to do difficult things; help us feel powerful and in control; create change or let us know when something is wrong,” she explains.
“It can however be problematic if we find it too hard to manage and keep under control. Keeping anger in check can be a challenge, but if channelled into positive energy it can be useful.”
With that in mind, here’s Lynette’s tips on how to manage anger – and make it work to your benefit.
TAKE TIME OUT
Everyone should schedule time outs in their daily routine. Giving yourself a break for a few moments, particularly during stressful times, can help you feel better equipped to manage what’s ahead. This helps prevent you getting irritable or angry. While you are in your quiet space, you are able to process events or problems and self-regulate your emotions and think about what changes you can make to reset your feelings.
TALK IT THROUGH
We can often bottle up our anger and it can explode like a pressure cooker if we contain it. It’s fine to say how you feel as long as you manage it in the right way. Once you are thinking more clearly, try to express your feelings in an assertive, non-confrontational manner. Try expressing your concerns and wants clearly and openly, while also being aware of not trying to upset or control the other person. Mature communication like this helps us reduce both our stress and anger.
USE ‘I’ STATEMENTS
We often criticise, blame and become defensive in anger. Using ‘I’ statements when sharing a concern, for example ‘I feel upset when you don’t answer my phone calls.’ This sentence pattern shows that we are taking responsibility for our own emotions rather than placing blame on others. Alternatively, a statement such as ‘You never answer my phone calls!’ will instantly put someone on the defensive. Discussing your feelings positively can help you gain a different perspective.
YOU CAN’T TAKE WORDS BACK
In the heat of the moment we can say hurtful things we later regret. Say “Stop” or visualise a stop sign. Take a breath, give yourself a moment to think before you say anything, and give others the chance to do the same. In that moment, ask yourself:
What am I reacting angrily to?
Is my reaction out of proportion?
How important is this really?
What is the bigger picture, and does this really matter?
Is there another way of dealing with this?
By doing this you can enable yourself to stop, consider your behaviour and encourage you to handle the situation calmly.
Typically it’s the stresses and worries of daily life that make us irritable and angry, however you can switch your focus onto resolving the issue that is causing the anger. Something as simple as writing down the problem is a great way to start. Try to describe it as clearly as you can, and then write down as many possible solutions as you can think of, even if you think they are ridiculous.
The point of this is to help remind yourself of how you dealt with similar problems in the past, or give you alternatives you might not have considered before now. Choose what you think is the best solution and identify all the steps it would take to make it happen. Once you can think of a plan to manage a problem, you often find your emotional state is calmer.
RELEASE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
Negative thoughts such as ‘They always let me down’ or ‘ They don’t care about me’ will keep you focused on what is making you angry and make you feel worse. Try and think more positive and balanced thoughts. Each time you have a negative thought, turn it into a balanced, positive thought instead e.g. ‘They think I’m stupid’ to ‘I don’t know what they are really thinking’. It can be difficult to change our patterns, but just one positive thought to start can make such a big difference.
Try writing down some of your angry thoughts, and then write down as many positive balanced thoughts as you can for each of the negative thoughts. This can help you to start releasing the angry thinking habits, and over time you will become faster at catching these angry thoughts as they arise, and faster at balancing them out with positive thoughts.
EXERCISE AND RELAXATION
Exercise and relaxation can bring down your general stress levels that can cause you to become angry. When you feel the anger building up, why not go try going for a run, walk, swim or even meditation or yoga? These types of activities are a proven way to reduce stress, in turn reducing our irritations and anger.
When you feel your anger rising, relaxation methods can help to reduce these feelings. Practising breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation or guided imagery can all help to control rising emotions, however, it’s about trying several options to find out what works best for you. This can take time, so it’s important to remember that relaxation is a skill like any other, which takes practice and repetition to perfect.
Getting creative can help stress levels, relieve tension and reduce feelings of anger. Try writing a journal, listening to music, creative writing, painting or mindfulness colouring when you are upset. Turn the negativity of your anger into a creative expression and in turn it will produce something positive.
LET IT GO
Holding onto negative emotions can be unhealthy and create resentment. Forgiveness can be hard to do on times but it’s a powerful tool, and If you are able to do this you can often learn from the situation and relationships can be strengthened.
Forgiveness takes a lot of strength and emotional resilience, and it is OK if you are not in a place where you can forgive and let go of the anger, but you can still try to give yourself love, support and compassion to soothe the anger.
See the funny side…
Why not look for ways to disperse anger through humour. Laughter is a great tonic to diffuse tension and can lighten the mood quickly. Humour is a way of looking at your anger and examining the unrealistic expectations that may have caused the situation. If I feel anger, I love to watch a funny TV show or cat videos on YouTube that make me belly laugh!
Anger is just like an iceberg, in that when we are angry what others see on the outside is just a small part of the hidden emotions underneath. For example, anger and hurt are often parallel, and if we are able to spot the hurts, needs and fears that lie at the base of the anger, then we can begin to tackle these emotions rather than being stuck with the anger.
Maybe ask yourself what has caused the hurt? Or what might you be frightened of? Recognising this will help you think and act differently and give you the opportunity to look at individual options on how to respond.
RECOGNISE YOUR TRIGGERS
Triggers are incidents or situations that we recognise as threats to ourselves. Once we can identify our triggers that set us off into an angry response, we can try to avoid those triggers, change the way we think about them or reduce the level of sensitivity by using calming or relaxation techniques. Once you can identify the patterns in what sets off your anger, it becomes easier to manage the trigger situations, and take different, positive steps in your life.
Learning to control anger can be extremely challenging for us all, but managing your anger is equally as important as managing your happiness or wellbeing.
If you feel your anger is out of control; you are not thinking clearly about your choices or actions and it is causing you regret; or your anger is hurting others, it may be time to seek assistance from your GP or a Counsellor to help you work through your anger.