5 Healthy Ways to Cope with Anger
Anger is a natural part of the human experience. But if you find it’s a persistent emotion for you, it may be time to take a closer look.
First, you should know that anger itself can actually be a helpful emotion. “It’s telling you loud and clear that something or someone is hurting you,” says Tess Brigham, a licensed therapist who practices in San Francisco. And some amount of anger can motivate you to find solutions to problems, says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a licensed psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, California.
However, it’s important to be able to find ways to cope with anger when it arises. Left unchecked, anger can hinder relationships, cause problems at work, and even affect your overall health.
In one study, researchers followed more than 200 adults for one week. They found that people with higher levels of anger were more likely to have higher levels of inflammation and chronic illnesses like osteoarthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. “It’s not your anger [itself] that affects your health; it’s how you manage the anger,” Brigham says.
The next time you’re feeling angry, try these expert-recommended tips for finding more calm.
1. Change Your Perspective
“Seeing things from a new perspective when we’re angry about something can change the way we see the whole situation,” says Ashurina Ream, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Phoenix.
For example, maybe you’re stuck in traffic and can feel your anger rising with each passing minute. Changing that anger into thankfulness that you’re not in the accident that’s causing the traffic jam can provide the positive spin that can help you cool down. For any situation you’re in, you can reframe your point of view by asking yourself, What else could be true?
“You’ll wonder why you were wasting so much time being angry when you shift the way you think about it,” Ream says.
Changing your perspective may also involve a physical change. Use your problem-solving skills. If traffic headaches raise your blood pressure every morning, see whether you can find another way. Map out an alternate route to avoid the gridlock, or find a bus, commuter train, or carpool to take to work instead. Seeking an alternate plan can help alleviate—and maybe even eliminate—your anger.
2. Take a Timeout
It’s easy to say something you’ll regret when tensions are high. Take a deep breath and count to 10 to compose yourself and gather your thoughts before you speak. You may even need to say you’ll talk about the topic later once you return to less emotional thinking, says Bethany Cook, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist who practices in Chicago.
Taking a strategic pause gives you control—something that's often lost when we're furious. “A lot of power is in exercising the muscle of pausing,” Ream says. “When we take a deep breath, we’re sending signals back to our brain to calm down and address things from a levelheaded and calm position.” From there, you’re less likely to say something you may wish you hadn’t.
3. Laugh Instead
Trying to see the funny side first rather than defaulting to anger can help turn the heat down in a situation. Evaluate whether what you’re angry about is worth it. Use humor to help you address why you’re angry, constructively. “Humor is such an underrated skill,” Ream says. “People don’t realize how that can produce positive chemicals in your body.”
However, avoid being sarcastic or using mean jabs, which can worsen a situation by causing hurt feelings. “Sarcasm is just anger in another form,” Brigham notes. Instead, use humor in a kind and loving way. “Humor is a way to break up the tension and laugh, as opposed to feeling like you’re being made fun of,” she says.
4. Express Your Anger in Constructive Ways
Many of us have been raised to believe that angry feelings aren’t welcome. But bottling them up can be harmful. “There’s benefit to learning how to express strong feelings directly in the moment so that they don’t build up and sabotage your own ability to stay balanced and calm in your everyday life,” Walfish says.
Build a list of go-to ways to express anger without hurting yourself or your relationships. Try these options:
- Channel that energy into a workout or a creative outlet, like dance, or painting.
- Write your feelings down in a journal.
- Scream into a pillow in private.
5. Address Your Other Needs
Pay attention to how you’re nourishing your whole self, Ream says. For instance, when you’re sleep-deprived, hangry, or lacking support for what you need to get done, it’s easy to slip into anger. But when you take time for yourself to address those needs, you have a better chance of managing situations that might otherwise make you irritable. Set yourself up for success with good sleep habits and eating when your body needs it.
When to Seek Help for Anger
Consider getting help for anger issues if your anger seems out of control, makes you act in ways you might regret, or hurts those around you. Excessive anger may lead to drug or alcohol misuse and trigger other risky behaviors, like driving erratically or getting into situations that could cause physical harm.
“If anger is not dealt with, worked through properly, or not processed, it can be destructive,” says Kelley Bonner, a licensed therapist who practices in Bethesda, Maryland. “It can take over in a way that can be unhealthy.”
No matter anger’s impact on your life, it’s a good idea to seek professional help anytime you think you may need it, Cook says. A mental health professional can help you learn skills and strategies to adapt your behavior and thinking.
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