Anger is a completely normal and necessary human emotion. Anger tells us when we feel threatened, when our boundaries may have been crossed and what our values are. Much like positive stress, anger can motivate us to do things we care about or to stand up for ourselves or those we love. Anger can fluctuate from mild irritation to intense rage. People often experience anger as physical sensations such as a quickened heartbeat, nervous energy, feeling hot or flushed, going red in the face, shaking or quickened breathing to name a few.
How we deal with anger generally exists on a spectrum with two distinct poles. On one pole we have aggression, which is the outward expression of anger. On the other hand we have suppression, which is where we deny our experience of anger and shove it down. Humans can often feel shame when they experience anger and this can lead to the suppression of anger, which is just as harmful as expressing anger in an aggressive way.
Both of these responses to anger are maladaptive and can lead to serious physical and psychological health concerns. Somewhere in the middle is a good balance between the two, where we are able to express our anger in a healthy way or use our anger to motivate positive behaviour.
Why Anger Feel Uncontrollable Sometimes
Sometimes, anger is such a strong emotion that it feels uncontrollable. This is because when we feel anger our fight or flight activates and the rational part of our brain switches off. This puts the emotional experience front and centre and makes it harder for us to think clearly and calmly.
How to Deal with Feelings of Anger
So how do we cope with feelings of anger and tame our inner werewolf?
Check in with yourself: Take time to identify what it is that you are feeling and understand why it is that you may be feeling this anger.
Validate the emotion: Validating our emotions is one of the best emotion regulation tools we have. If you tell yourself that you ‘shouldn’t’ be feeling anger or that it’s ‘shameful’ or ‘stupid’, you are likely to escalate more or completely suppress the emotion. We may need to go and do some vigorous exercise to sweat it out and release that energy.
Exercise: Boxing, running or a high intensity workout can be helpful. This will regulate our nervous system and help us to express ourselves as calmly and assertively as possible.
Relaxation techniques: Such as breathing and guided imagery are useful tools to help you emotionally regulate.
Finally, acknowledging and validating the emotion of anger may be enough or we might identify that it is important for us to express our anger to other people. In this instance, it is important to use assertive communication. Assertive communication, unlike passive or aggressive communication, is where we can clearly communicate our needs and boundaries. How we say things is just as important than what we say, so be conscious of tone, body language and facial expressions. We want to speak about facts rather than opinions and judgement.
Just like exercising consistently is what helps maintain our physical fitness, applying these skills regularly is what supports our mental fitness. These things don’t come easily and the trick is to be kind to ourselves and keep practicing!