Written by: Robert R. Cassman, LPCC-S, NCC, CCMHC
Anger can get out of control for any of us. This can lead to trouble with our loved ones, our employer, and even the law. It is vital that we know how to control our anger to prevent such consequences. Below are some basic points that all anger management treatments should address.
- Trigger awareness. A “trigger” is something unique to each individual that starts that person down the road to unhealthy anger. For some of us, a boss talking down to us could “trigger” us to anger. For others, it could be traffic that leads us to anger. Knowing what our own specific “triggers” are is an important step to controlling anger.
- Warning signs. Once we are “triggered” our body creates warning signs. These may be a flushed face, clenched fist or jaw, upset stomach or the fact that we are pacing. When we recognize these warning signs, we are recognizing that we are getting upset.
- Time out. This is the first of the actual coping skills. Knowing our triggers and warning signs can help us to know when to take a break from the situation. This break is also known as a “time out.” If I am at work and a co-worker “makes me mad” I can take a break to cool off. If I am at home and my children “make me mad” I can go to my room to take a break. Sometimes removing ourselves from the situation can help us calm down. A vacation is really just an extended time out. Don’t feel bad about needing to take a time out!
- Deep breathing. Right away some people will read this and said “yeah right.” But regulated deep breathing works! Think about when we get upset. What is happening from a physiological point of view? Why does our skin get reddened? Our heart is pumping blood faster and causing more blood to rush throughout our bodies. That’s blood that is causing the flushed face. We know that the faster our blood is flowing the more agitated we are likely to get. So if we can control our blood flow we can calm down. One way to control blood flow is to regulate our breathing, which controls the blood flow. The deeper and slower we breath, the calmer we become. Here’s how to do it: slowly breathe in through your nose, hold the breath for four seconds and then slowly breathe out through your mouth for four seconds. Remember to do it slowly! Do this entire process four times and your heart rate will go down. This has been studied and whether you believe it works or not, it works!
- Diversion skills. Distraction can work wonders. If I am upset at a relative and am getting mad, I can do something else. As I clean a room, file some papers, do the dishes, or go for a walk, I am less likely to get angry. I fill my life with something else other than anger to keep me busy. Have a couple of planned distractions in place so when you get mad you can immediately go to them.
- New thoughts. Normally if someone tells us “just don’t think about it” we then begin to think about that same thing! But if we introduce a new thought to “compete” with the old thought we are less likely to dwell on the original thought. If I am getting mad at the traffic I can create a new thought to take the space in my mind. Here’s an example: “I need to get going on that deck in the backyard. I probably need to purchase some lumber. I’ll need to use my circular saw to cut the wood. I think I need a new blade for the saw. I’ll also need an extension cord and some screws. What time does Lowes open?” In that example I filled my mind with something completely unrelated to the traffic. For that moment I was not thinking of the traffic and therefore not getting any more upset. The new thought can be anything! It doesn’t have to be serious. As long as you go into some detail and fill your mind with a new thought, the “angry” thought will take up less space!