COVID-19 wellbeing hub. Managing anger

It’s well known that tempers can flare at work – the kitchen in particular. But even during lockdown, away from work, you may find yourself getting angry. You may not even know why. Anger can be driven by all sorts of emotions running under the surface: anxiety, confusion, depression or helplessness to name just a few.

 

Although anger is often labelled as bad or negative it is a normal healthy emotion. But it becomes problematic when it is expressed in unhelpful ways, or repressed and grows into resentment. Anger is a potent feeling and our fear of it is often more concerned with the possibility of losing control or saying or doing something we later regret, whether that’s by damaging our relationships at home, or harming our career and working relationships.

So how do you recognise anger and what can you do to manage it?

About Anger.

Anger is an emotion which provides vital intelligence about our immediate environment. It gives us the energy and motivation to take care of ourselves. It lets us know when we feel threatened, taken advantage of or that something is not right. It also feels uncomfortable; the way to lessen this uncomfortable feeling is to do something to reduce it. Used well it can help us to problem solve and improve situations.

We experience physical changes when we are angry – our heart rate speeds up, adrenaline is released and we tense our muscles. If anger is unexpressed or turned inwards, it can lead to high blood pressure, heart problems or even depression. Anger tends to affect our ability to think clearly and this can lead to impulsive or destructive behaviour. People talk about ‘seeing red’ when they lose the capacity to reason. If we do not manage our anger we can become openly aggressive or passively aggressive. However, being angry is never an excuse for violence or bullying, and the key to managing it is becoming more aware of our feelings and taking responsibility for them.

Recognise when you are Angry.

One of the key steps in anger management is to recognise the early signs of anger. When we deal with our anger early on, rather than allowing it to build up and overwhelm us, we can deal with it better. Signs of anger include:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Faster heart rate
  • Feeling hot
  • Persistent thinking, unable to let things go
  • Tensed muscles, clenched jaw and teeth grinding
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Going quiet and shutting down
  • Desire to insult or criticise others

Image: Unsplash/Markus Winkler

When you are Angry.

Once you have recognised you are angry the first thing to do is stop and ask yourself what you are angry about. Many people fall into the trap of trying to ignore their anger. But in doing so, the problem or threat that caused them to be angry is allowed to continue, and the feelings of anger are likely to return or turn into resentment. Remember that anger gives you important information about your situation and it needs to be acknowledged before you can decide what to do with it.

Dealing with strong feelings.

Instead of acting immediately on your anger you can use some simple strategies to give yourself time to calm down and think, these can help to prevent reacting impulsively:

  • Count to ten
  • Slow your breathing down, breathe out for longer than you breathe in
  • Leave the situation if you can, take a walk or get some fresh air
  • Speak to a supportive friend or colleague
  • Write down what you are feeling, this can often lead to more clarity
  • Maintain perspective – things that anger us can range from minor to very significant. To keep things in perspective, keep in mind your ultimate goal and the overall purpose in what you are doing.

Image: Unsplash/Jan Tinneberg

Expressing Anger Responsibly.

Because anger is often perceived culturally as a bad or negative emotion many of us have learned indirect ways of expressing it. Here are some typical examples of passive aggression, sarcasm and joking that highlight the indirect ways we let people know we are angry:

  • ‘Whatever! Do what you want, I don’t care,’ and then sulking
  • ‘I’m not annoyed’ in a sharp tone, when you really are annoyed and won’t admit it
  • ‘I was only joking, why are you getting so upset?’ using jokes to communicate harsh truths but not accepting responsibility for them
  • ‘You’re doing so well for someone of your educational level’ using backhanded compliments to take someone down a peg or two

These indirect expressions of anger undermine our relationships and perpetuate problems. If we learn to accept that we are angry and communicate it in an assertive, respectful way things can be dealt with more openly and our relationships will benefit.

  • Use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements as it demonstrates responsibility. For example, ‘I find this project is stretching me beyond my current capacity and I would appreciate more assistance’ rather than ‘You keep giving me too much work and you need to fix this’
  • Make your demands clear e.g. ‘I would like you to arrive at work on time’
  • Stick with the facts and the consequences, avoid interpreting e.g. ‘I notice that you have been late every morning this week and this has meant other colleagues have had to deal with a high volume of phone calls in your absence.’
  • Find points of agreement e.g. ‘we both agree that we need to complete this project by Friday. What can we do to ensure we meet our deadline?’

When anger overwhelms.

If you feel that your anger is very difficult to manage and find yourself in a pattern of behaving impulsively, aggressively or violently, or if you are persistently critical and undermining of others there may be more difficult issues that need addressing. Problems at home, worries about finances or the stress of managing heavy workloads are very real pressures. At times like this it may help to speak with a professional who can help you to understand what is fuelling your anger and will work with you to find ways to manage it.

 

Other ways that can help to reduce anger are:

  • Get regular exercise. Exercise releases feel-good/happy hormones and gives us energy to get through our daily lives.
  • Maintain a good work/life balance. Ensure that you make time for the things that are important to you and make you feel good, such as family, friends, hobbies, holidays and relaxation. These will help to see you through stressful times.
  • Avoid reliance on alcohol or other addictive substances. While a drink or two or more after work may help you to feel better in the short term it can have long term health consequences, affect our emotional wellbeing and overall resilience.
  • Get enough sleep. We all know that a lack of sleep can make us feel grumpy, irritable and affects our concentration. Make it a priority to maintain a regular bedtime. Have a break from smart phones and screens for the hour before bed as the lights emitted have been shown to interfere with our ability to fall asleep. Adopt a relaxing bedtime routine so that your body receives a nightly signal to switch off.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Talk about your feelings. Talking to someone you trust; feeling understood by them and having your feelings acknowledged can remind you that you are not alone, and that what you feel is valid and important. It may also help to facilitate more constructive thinking.
  • Remember what is important in life. Prioritise. Remember these things when anger surfaces.