Do you spend a lot of your time angry? Is your anger directed toward a single event or person, or do you just find that a lot of situations make you angry? Is anger holding back your career or harming your personal relationships? If so, it may be time to understand your anger and what triggers it.
Anger is a normal emotional response. It is a signpost that tells us something is wrong and needs our attention.
It may be that you need to have a hard conversation with someone and explain how their actions affected you. It may be that you need to seek an apology or a better understanding of what happened. Or you may simply need to “get over yourself” and just let it go.
Anger is a place we sometimes need to visit, but we shouldn’t live there.
Prolonged anger is exceptionally bad for your physical and mental health. It floods your body with cortisol – the stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels have been linked to a variety of serious health problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, depression and dementia.
You don’t have to let anger own you. Here are some strategies for dealing with your anger.
- Walk away. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to regain your equilibrium once you are already angry. The energy (e) is already in ‘motion’ in your body, hence the term ’emotion’. Remove yourself from the situation before you say or do something you’ll regret.
- Removed from the situation, consider your role. Anger is often the result of feeling as though something has been done to us. We therefore see ourselves as victims, which often amplifies the anger because we feel powerless. Instead, consider how you contributed to the situation and own it. Owning your part, however small, helps to immediately defuse some of the intensity of the anger and, more importantly, helps to put you back in control so you are no longer a ‘victim’.
- Accept the fact that people don’t always act reasonably or nicely. There isn’t always a reason, there isn’t always an excuse, and you may never get to the bottom of why it happened or why someone behaved in a certain way.
- Put yourself back in control. Decide how you are going to manage your reaction rather than being at the mercy of your reaction, and acknowledge that you may never know why someone has acted the way they have.
Now, you are ready for the next steps.
- Consider: How important is this to you? How important is the person to you? If they are important, you may need to invest in some self-reflection and spend some time and effort sorting things.
- Ask yourself: If the situation or the person is not that important to you, then why are you so angry? Often in these situations, it’s not the event or person that’s causing the anger, but your own ego. Example, you may be embarrassed or feel silly, but rather than brush it off you overcompensate and fly into a rage instead. Of course, this can so easily make matters worse as you look even more silly because of the overreaction! Vocabulary or thinking such as, ‘Who do they think they are?’ or ‘They can’t do that to someone like me!’ are sure signs your ego has stepped forward and is about to make matters worse! These types of phrases indicate that you are more worried about what something ‘looks like’ than what you actually feel.
- Consider writing down what happened to help you gain clarity. You may want to write a letter to the other person explaining your point of view. It can’t be an angry rant full of blame and recrimination. Rather, it needs to be a sane explanation of the issue from your perspective. If you can’t do that, work on defusing more of the toxicity of your anger before putting pen to paper. Often this can reduce anger levels and you won’t even need to send it! In fact, I would encourage you not to send the letter. If you are convinced you want to, or need to send it, go ahead and write it, then put it aside for two weeks, and review it again. You’ll probably be glad you didn’t send it.
Keeping it in perspective
None of us are perfect and, perhaps more importantly, we can never know what personal or professional issues the other person is dealing with on a given day. Remember, we only know our story, not their full story or context (even if we think we do). We may never know why someone behaved badly or why a situation turned to custard in a heartbeat. All we can do is control our reaction — and perhaps listen to what the anger is telling us.
(Want to learn more about managing your emotions? Check out my latest book: “Your Life, Your Way: A practical guide to getting your s**t together”)