Editor’s note: Every month, the team at Ravenwood Health posts about a mental-health topic. This month, Suzi Gahr, LISW-S, Clinical Supervisor, Social Work Internship Program Outpatient Therapist, wrote a post on understanding and more effectively handling anger.

Annoyed. Angry. Mad. Feelings we all experience, but for many of us, feelings we don’t like to experience. Anger is a normal human emotion but it can be very uncomfortable and difficult to manage effectively. Anger can reach our tongues at lightning speeds and make our mouths work faster than our brains. Anger can lead us to behave and speak in ways that leave us feeling regretful and embarrassed. Since we all feel anger, and it’s ok to feel it, let’s look at some ways to better understand it including how to reduce its intensity and deal with it more effectively.

Reflect and Explore. What emotions and thoughts may be underneath your anger? Is it possible that you are actually sad, worried, or afraid?  Are there past or present life experiences or traumas that are unresolved? Outward signs of anger can often be a manifestation of inner thoughts and feelings that we are having difficulty expressing or coping with. Anger can often be fueled by negative thoughts about ourselves, others, or our circumstances. “I’m not good enough,” “Nobody ever listens to me,” “He did that on purpose to hurt me.” Once you uncover what may be fueling your anger, you can then begin to work through those things on your own, with a family member or friend, or with a professional. You are likely to find that once you develop improved ability to identify, communicate, and cope with all your thoughts and emotions, the intensity of your anger and frequency of angry outbursts lessens.

Check in on your basic needs. Is it possible that you are actually just hungry, tired, or over stressed? Have you been working too much and not giving yourself time to unwind and engage socially with friends and family? Do you have too much on your plate; are there things in your life you continue to say “yes” to when really you need to say “no?” Practicing good self-care—nutrition, sleep, exercise, work-life balance, social outlets and hobbies—can go a long way in terms of preventing irritability and anger, and giving you a solid base to more effectively deal with anger when it comes around. Think of it as making sure your gas tank is nice and full prior to experiencing a situation that leads to anger, rather than running to fill up the tank when the anger has already set in.

Delay and Distract. The intense feeling of anger has already set in, so now what? In the heat of the moment, logic typically goes out the window. Therefore, you need to give yourself a moment to allow logic to come back, delay your mouth or body from acting before your brain has had a second to think things through. Think of it as trying to give yourself some space from the anger—you are not angry, you are experiencing anger.  Sometimes taking a few deep breaths may be all you need. Other times, stepping into a different room of the house or building you are in may work. Walk to the kitchen, pour and drink a glass of water. Step outside and take a brisk walk around your house or, if you are feeling up to it, your street. Turn the vacuum on. Go to your exercise class. Call a friend. Journal. Make a list of potential solutions to what is causing the anger. The key is to find something to do rather than reacting right away with only your feelings of anger guiding your behavior. Rather, you want to give yourself time to respond to the anger in a more effective way. Once your brain has caught up to your emotions you will be more prepared to effectively deal with your anger.

A final note. Remember, all feelings are ok and anger itself is not bad or wrong, nor something we want to eliminate altogether. Rather, we want to allow ourselves to feel, express, and cope in healthy and safe ways with all of our feelings, both the comfortable and enjoyable feelings as well as the uncomfortable and painful ones. 

Suzi is currently reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.