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How to Control Anger

There are many techniques that can be used to control anger, ranging from relaxation exercises to changing thought patterns, and learning how to communicate better so as to reduce stress levels.

Recognising Physiological Arousal

Although people generally experience the same symptoms when aroused through anger, the intensity of those symptoms might be different for different people.

For instance, one person who becomes angry might notice that their cheeks become hot and flushed, whilst another might notice that they clench their fists or teeth. It is important for the angry person to learn to recognise these symptoms so that when they feel them happening, they can either use them as cues to take control over their anger, or they can choose to release the angry outburst. Either way, learning to recognise their physiological cues provides them with a choice as to what happens next. There’s no harm in releasing anger every now and then, but to do it continuously would destroy relationships around them.

There are several courses of action a person might take once they have come to recognise the physiological changes which occur when anger wells up.

Thought Stopping
A person may say ‘stop’ to themselves when they feel themselves becoming angry. Typically the physiological changes will be accompanied by angry thoughts and so thought-stopping is a technique whereby they can arrest those angry thoughts. One method is to imagine they are looking at themselves from outside their body. Another method is to begin breathing more slowly and perhaps count from 1-10 inside their head. This helps the muscles of the body to relax. The idea is to stop and think about what to do next. This process of stopping allows for a more informed choice to be made.

Relaxation Exercises
Relaxation is an important means of learning to manage anger. Breathing exercises involve taking in a deep breath, pausing for a couple of seconds, and then exhaling until the lungs are empty. Whilst seated, a person might lower their head forward slightly and as they do this and allow their arms to become limp, hanging down over either side of the chair. When they breathe in, they might say to themselves “breathing in relaxation”. As they breathe out, they could say “breathing out anger”. If they do this for several minutes they will feel their physiological arousal slowly disappear.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Another option is to concentrate on the muscles. This technique is sometimes used as a pre-cursor to hypnosis. The person sits in a chair with their arms hanging limp either side or resting on their knees. They close their eyes and begin to focus on their scalp imagining the muscles in their scalp relaxing. When they feel that their scalp is relaxed they then work down to their eyes, followed by their mouth, neck, shoulders, torso, abdomen, buttocks, thighs, calves, and feet. By the time they have reached their feet they should feel that their whole body is now relaxed and all feelings of anger have dissipated.

Time Out
This is a means of ‘buying time’. The person stops what they are doing and calms down before deciding what action to take. This could involve walking away from a situation, and so clearly in a case where a relationship is involved and one person is undergoing counselling for anger issues, this is something which would have to be discussed beforehand so as to avoid causing offence. During time out the person can practice something to help them diffuse their anger e.g. breathing exercises.

Physical Activity
When you are physically active, your muscles stretch, your blood pumps faster, you sweat out toxins and your body chemistry changes (e.g. more adrenalin can be made). Doing something physical can also be a distraction from thinking about things that cause stress. All of these things can help reduce stress.

People who live a lifestyle that incorporates regular physical activity, such as sport, morning exercise, daily walks or gardening, are likely to be reducing their stress unconsciously through these activities. Their primary motivation may be to maintain physical well-being or just experience a pleasurable activity, but the psychological benefits cannot be under-rated.

For anyone who is conscious of a stressful situation in their life, it can be a very positive thing to consciously pursue physical activity. Consider when a person loses a loved one, or suffers a financial set back in their life. The person who retreats into their own thoughts, worrying, and becoming less active than normal is likely to deteriorate both physically and mentally. The person who sets themselves a physical challenge (e.g. takes up a sport, walks for an hour daily, or builds something in their house or garden), is more likely to cope.

Do you want to learn more about managing stress and anger, or study life coaching?  We offer a number of courses in these areas and more, with courses aimed at different levels of study from Introductory through to Advanced Diplomas.  Our Introductory level courses include:

Anger Management
Life Coaching
Stress Management

If you want to increase your knowledge, but are not considering formal studies, take a look at our Psychology eBooks and our new 20 hour short courses.

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