When you feel extremely angry, wouldn’t it be amazing to throw a juvenile temper tantrum without someone having you committed?
I admit, when I see a kid losing his marbles in the cereal aisle, I don’t cringe. I envy.
At a certain age you start holding back on the immediacy of your emotions, and who can blame you? These days, being too happy is considered naïve, being too sad is an automatic clinical diagnosis, and being too angry is a complete waste of energy.
You’ve heard it all. Suck it up. Let it go. Move on.
Anger isn’t worth it. Right?
Anger is the most important emotion you have. When you’re angry, it’s a red flag that something needs to change, and when you’re extremely angry, something needs to change right now.
There are two ways you can deal with anger depending on the situation at hand: as it happens, or as a building block toward bigger life changes.
In the moment, decide which fork in the road you should take, then use one or more of the options below:
When You Feel Extremely Angry…
1. Let it Happen
You’ve been given a wide spectrum of emotions for a reason, so use them. Suppressing your anger is unhealthy. It can lead to ulcers and heart disease, never mind the damage it can do to your relationships and overall sense of well-being.
When I feel extremely angry and find myself holding back, I just think of Meg Ryan in French Kiss:
A healthy person is someone who expresses their feelings… Express, not repress… You know what happens to people who shut everybody out? They fester. Inside. Fester and rot.
This might seem strange, but try it! The next time you’re not expressing yourself, just picture a little Meg Ryan on your shoulder: “Fester fester fester, rot rot rot.”
If you attempt to hide or ignore your anger, it won’t go away. It might subside for a certain amount of time, but eventually it will manifest itself elsewhere.
Don’t apologize for or excuse your anger. You’re angry for a valid reason, and acknowledging it is the first step toward resolving what’s bothering you.
2. Separate Emotion from Action
You’ll likely want to pull a Godzilla and destroy everything in your path, but it’s important to take a step back and feel the emotion before you take action on it, especially when you feel extremely angry—let the anger take its course. Prematurely deciding to take action may cause more angst than waiting to give perspective to your anger.
After you’ve cooled off, you might find:
- the situation wasn’t as big a deal as you thought.
- in the long run it will lead to better things for you.
- it will take more than an outburst to solve the issue.
Or, you might find your anger was triggered by something completely different.
3. Identify Why
Extreme anger typically stems from a build-up of smaller annoyances. It’s like lighting a match: a person or situation rubs you the wrong way and your suppressed emotions flood to the surface. What’s awkward about this level of anger is when it strikes: it tends to hit at inconvenient times, such as while you’re at work or out with loved ones.
The problem isn’t the delay in dealing with your anger, it’s when the delay turns into avoiding it altogether. Either the initial rage subsides and you try to shrug it off, or you’re so consumed by your schedule that you simply add it to the pile of unresolved issues.
The next time you feel extremely angry, don’t just promise yourself you’re going to deal with it at a more appropriate time—pencil in alone time. Make it happen.
4. Cool Off with Exercise
A great outlet to reduce tension is physical activity: use your anger as fuel for a healthier lifestyle.
Test various workouts and figure out which are most effective at calming your anger. Some people prefer aggressive exercise, such as kickboxing or running, while others find quieter activities more beneficial, such as walking, gardening, or (gasp!) cleaning.
5. Delay Your Reaction
If you’re in a situation where dealing with your anger immediately isn’t an option, inhale deeply. As you exhale, count to ten or repeat a phrase that helps you relax. Keep doing so until you feel centered again.
6. Distract Yourself
If you turn your attention elsewhere, it will help you focus on the present moment and prioritize your emotions.
Think of a pleasant memory, read a book, find your happy place (or borrow Happy Gilmore if you have to).
7. Do Your Homework
If you feel extremely angry because of something that’s out of your control, like losing a promotion to someone else, do your homework before reacting. Look beyond what’s happened and find out why it has. Look past someone’s actions and look at their intentions: most of the time, they haven’t intended to hurt you.
There are always underlying circumstances—a cause and effect—and it’s crucial to look at a situation from every angle so all perspectives are taken into account. Nothing diffuses anger like logic.
If afterward you’re still angry, find out how others have moved on from similar situations; be the one to come out a better person.
8. Don’t Play the Victim
The worst thing you can do is blame the entire universe for your problems.
Yes, this person did you wrong, and sure, that situation could have worked out better, but you have a mind of your own: your life isn’t happening to you, so why are you acting like it is?
Until you take responsibility for your part in what’s happened—how your reaction to this person and that situation lead you to where you are today—you’ll just keep making the same mistakes and fanning the fire instead of putting it out.
Don’t ask, “Why me?” Ask, “What now?”
9. Find a Safe Haven
We all have our “spot”: a primary place we go to think or relax. This can be a room in your home that’s just for you or a piece of the forest you’ve claimed as your own. It doesn’t matter where this spot is, as long as going there makes you feel calm and helps you re-energize.
When you feel extremely angry, you’re physically and emotionally overstimulated—the demands on your time are inevitably getting to you. If the situation allows you to leave and take a time-out, do so and immediately visit your spot.
Sometimes all you need is a change in environment (and pace) to calm yourself down and gain perspective. During these quiet moments, see if you can think of ways to cut down or cut out the triggers that are making you angry.
10. Look Before You Leap
If there’s a chance someone has betrayed you, your first instinct will likely be to confront and lash out at them.
While I’m a believer in always following your instincts, in this instance I encourage you to step back before confronting them and evaluate the situation: did you hear this through the grapevine? Does it seem plausible or out of character for them? What will you say when you confront them? What do you want to know?
Line your cards up and give them a chance; you don’t want to automatically assume the worst.
If it’s someone you’ve had problems with in the past, do your best to be specific about your anger. Focus on the situation at hand.
If you batch together all the anger you’ve ever felt toward them, this will obviously lead to more anger, and a much larger argument than necessary.
11. Discuss Your Anger with Someone Trustworthy
When you’re having a frustrating day or going through something that’s causing ongoing stress in your life, find someone trustworthy to talk to. This can be a family member, a close friend, or someone you work with. Even if they don’t offer specific advice, the simple act of sharing what’s bothering you might help you find a solution.
There have been many occasions where I went into a conversation asking a question, and found the answer during my stream of consciousness rant.
12. Listen to Music
Music is one of the best things to have in your dealing-with-anger arsenal for several reasons:
- Listening to aggressive music that matches your mood allows you to work through the emotion productively.
- Listening to slower music (such as acoustic) allows you to slow your thought process and calm down.
- Listening to specific songs with lyrics that relate to what you’re going through help you put your own experiences into perspective.
- Turning up the volume allows you to drown out your thought process when “the little things” are irritating and distracting you.
Decide whether you’re going to use music to work through or distract from your anger, and hit play.
13. Write an E-mail
After you’ve argued with someone, are wronged by them, or your anger toward them is lingering longer than it should be, create your own closure by writing them an e-mail.
Write out your fury in stream of consciousness format, then continue to revise the e-mail as you think of new things you would’ve liked to say at the time.
Get everything out of your system about the issue on your own time, as the words come to you. Once you have nothing more to say and you’ve perfected the e-mail… delete it.
Use erasing the e-mail as a symbolic gesture toward letting go of what’s bothering you. Trust me, you’ll feel a lot lighter afterward.
14. Make a List
Make a list of all the things, people, and situations that make you angry. Be as specific and detailed as possible, and then rate each item from 1 – 5, with 1 equaling Annoyed and 5 Infuriated. Next, determine whether you can cut back on it in your life or cut it out entirely.
With the items that have to stay, plan ways to reframe how you feel about them so they don’t send you off the deep end. Do everything you can to phase out what infuriates you, no matter how long it takes—nothing is worth jeopardizing your heart health.
15. Disconnect from Your Triggers
There are always little things that set us off, no matter how trivial.
Me? Shopping on weekends turns me into a total nutcase. (I won’t even get into the story about the guy who held everyone up trying to return a microwave he apparently hadn’t used, despite the fact that there was food stuck in it!) Not only do I not shop on weekends, I never shop during peak hours: this allows me to fully enjoy my shopping experience.
Be mindful of your triggers. It doesn’t matter why something makes you tick, just recognize that it does and do what’s necessary to work around it—for yourself, and for those who cross your path.
Your home should always be a place that relaxes you. If your home feels less homey and more mental institution-y, take the time to turn it into an oasis.
Declutter, use stress-reducing colors, and why not try feng shui—it couldn’t hurt, right?
17. Watch a Funny Movie/Show
When you’ve tried everything and still can’t shake your anger, why not laugh it off? (Literally.)
Laughter soothes tension, encourages muscle relaxation, and lightens your mental load. While there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the studies on how laughter improves your health, who cares? Laughing doesn’t suck. Anger does. Period.
18. Put Yourself First
Many of us don’t put our health first, even though it’s on our minds constantly.
But if you become more mindful about doing so—cutting back on things like caffeine and nicotine, getting more sleep, exercising regularly, and decreasing stress—guaranteed your emotional fuse wouldn’t be tested as often.
19. Do Something Relaxing
What activities do you enjoy most? Which ones put you completely at ease? Are there activities that you love but never make time for?
Reconnect with the things you love to do. Doing what you enjoy will make you feel more fulfilled, and feeling fulfilled will automatically lessen your desire to feel angry.
20. Use Anger to Fuel Change
I love anger because I’ve mastered how to use it, and you can too.
There was a time when my life turned out exactly how I swore it never would, and I was so exhausted from the simple act of surviving I had no idea how to make the necessary changes.
Then something happened, something small that was as insignificant as burning your toast in the morning, and that was it. I was done. I had a Scarlett O’Hara moment and refused to live one more day with things the way they were. That anger propelled me to where I am now: building the writing career I’ve always wanted, surrounded by everything and everyone I care about. It gave me the adrenaline rush necessary to see things through.
But maybe you’re not burnt out like I was. Maybe it’s fear holding you back: A fear of failure. A fear of success. A fear of disappointing others. Whatever your fear, anger trumps fear in the rock-paper-scissors of life. It will productively push you to where you want to be, but you have to let it.
Own your anger. Don’t let it own you.
Editors’ Picks on Anger Management
- Mindfulness for Anger Management: Transformative Skills for Overcoming Anger and Managing Powerful Emotions by Stephen Dansiger PsyD MFT
- Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner
- Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh
- How to Fight (Mindfulness Essentials) by Thich Nhat Hanh