How To Control Anger: Anger Management Tips & Techniques

Photo: viktor gladkov/shutterstock
angry woman leaning head against the wall

Anger is an emotion wildly misunderstood by most and mishandled by many people.

Often accompanied by images of flailing hands, punched walls, or other Jerry Springer-style behaviors used to express anger, this emotion frequently gets a bad wrap.

A biological imperative, anger — when understood and expressed constructively, is beneficial and necessary for your survival.

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Understanding your emotions is key in learning how to control anger.

Galvanizing you into action, anger is a veritable superhero, coming to action as a way to protect you from other feelings; feelings that are even more uncomfortable.

Feeling disrespected, devalued, helpless, powerless, shame, or afraid are more often than not the primary feelings that underlie the secondary emotion of anger.

Many people skulk away from addressing anger directly, usually out of fear of what may happen, how others will see them, or a commitment to seeing themselves in a certain light.

However, it’s the people who try to deny or suppress anger who see it cause the most damage in their life and relationships.

A better strategy is to make friends with your anger, learn what is trying to communicate to you, and take proactive steps toward expressing it in a regulated fashion.

Yes, you can be angry and still know how to control your anger.

Effective anger-management strategies involve a multi-dimensional and integrated approach, and just about everyone can benefit from learning a little more about this clever emotion.

Anger is an emotion, but when you recognize it, it's because you become aware of angry thoughts, physiological sensations occurring in your body (such as an increased heart rate or shaking), or behaviors that consciously or unconsciously signify your anger (such as clenching your fists or raising your voice).

How to control your anger with anger management.

Practicing relaxation exercises, taking time outs, and using humor are some key practices to keep your anger in check.

There are two domains of life that take up the bulk of adults’ lives: work and relationships. It is no surprise that anger is a frequent flyer in both contexts.

Why? A person’s profession provides them with the ability to take care of themselves and is necessary for survival.

The same is true for relationships. Like it or not, humans are relational animals, and therefore depend on relationships for our survival.

It goes without saying that the stakes are high at work and in relationships, and they are even higher if a person’s identity is largely rooted in what they do or the relationships they have (or don’t have).

So, anger, the protective emotion that it is, is not an uncommon guest.

Learning to express yourself constructively in these moments is essential, to avoid dire consequences. Fortunately, whether at work or at home, some of the same strategies apply.

Dealing with anger at work.

At work, the opportunities for anger are plentiful: The annoying coworker who interrupts in meetings, the boss who takes credit for your ideas, or the colleague who is always bragging about their successes in a thinly-veiled competition that you did not sign up for.

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When anger activates, covering up those other passive primary feelings on the work front, you have a few options. You can ignore it, blow up, quit your job, ooze passive-aggressive tendencies, or find some internal options.

Breathing or progressive muscle relaxation exercises can help a hyper-aroused nervous system de-escalate more readily, circumventing a flight-or-fight response that may have irrevocable consequences.

Venting or consulting with a trusted peer and utilizing company resources like human resources can help you properly advocate for yourself in instances where you feel marginalized, exploited, or disempowered.

Taking a time out can offer a huge advantage at work and in your relationships.

This can be easier said than done at first, but setting clear boundaries for yourself can help you and others anticipate an out in situations where one or both of you may be triggered.

For example, you might recognize that discussing politics is a hot-button issue. Instead of walking into a fiery conversation, say to your coworker, “Today, I’ve only got 15 minutes to chat, so let’s stick to the topic at hand.”

Proactively setting limits is a great way to remind yourself of your intention to remain grounded, and aware of triggers that can upend your typical, measured response.

The same is true in personal relationships.

Setting limits and maintaining effective boundaries is the hallmark of self-advocacy.

When you do so with intention, you can develop the skill of observation, as it pertains to your emotional experience, and get ahead of any emotional escalations. Imagine the power!

Regardless of your context, there are a few things to consider when learning how to effectively navigate anger.

A key factor in the art of being angry with grace is to know your default response style.

A little bit of anger mapping (examining the arc of your anger response, in thoughts, physiology, and behavior) is the first step to getting ahead of any responses you want to avoid.

Look to your body for the first cues of anger. What sensations do you notice? On a scale of one to 10, what is the point of no return before undesired effects take over? 

Learning your pattern gives you an extreme advantage for intervention.

If you're someone who quickly erupts, knowing this about yourself gives you the chance to prepare for this by bookending challenging meetings or conversations with active calming and self-regulation skills.

Meditation, singing, grounding, and distracting yourself (with cognitive and somatic strategies) are helpful augments to an escalating fight-or-flight response.

On the other hand, if you are someone who tends to flee or experiences a freeze response when you’re angry, mapping out your triggers and structuring helpful assertiveness skills, can help you show up for yourself when you’re angry.

Anger that does not get appropriately discharged tends to leak out sideways in unproductive and self-destructive ways.

With children, give them space to be angry.

One of the greatest gifts adults can offer children is the gift of healthy anger expression. So often, children are socialized to ignore or stifle their anger; because the adults in their life never learned to tolerate anger or express it themselves.

Validate their feelings and teach them ways to express it that fosters healthy autonomy and respect for others.

Say things like, “It’s OK if you’re angry with me, but not OK to call me names. If you’re angry, tell me you’re angry and why. We can work it out because I love you.”

This gives children the opportunity to self-advocate, be witnessed, and have their position valued, with an emphasis focused on collaborative solutions.

When all else fails, seek out a therapist or a coach to help you learn effective anger-management skills. Sometimes, you just were not trained well by your parents and teachers, because anger is a hard emotion for some people to navigate.

If you adjust your relationship to anger and look at it as an opportunity to learn something new about your needs, getting them met in other ways is much more feasible and less conflictual.

But even if anger is unavoidable, it is part of the human experience. Let it be a teacher, and then thank it for the lesson, and send it on its way.

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Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, PACT II couples therapist, and founder of Modern Intimacy in Los Angeles and Miami. The team at Modern Intimacy focuses on helping people heal from trauma, addiction, and sex and relationship issues. Follow her on IG @drkatebalestrieri.