Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems—problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you’re at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion.
The goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can’t get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.
In this course, you will better understand the nature of anger, and learn helpful techniques for recognizing triggers and and controlling your anger.
Click on the tabs below to navigate through the sections of this course.
- The Cycle of Anger
- Understanding Fight or Flight
- Common Myths About Anger
- Helpful Anger Management
Everyone occasionally gets angry and anger is a natural reaction to the things that happen: to you, around you, to someone you care for. Anger is a normal emotion unless the result of your anger is such that your reaction becomes uncontrollable, violent, or destructive.
When anger becomes your reaction of choice to even the most minor of situations, or if you find yourself lashing out unnecessarily at people you love, respect, or care for, your anger may be spiraling out of control. Out of control anger can lead to many psychological and emotional issues, as well as many difficulties with your career, important relationships, and friendships.
This course will provide the information you will need to end the anger cycle and live up to your true potential.
By the end of this workshop, you will:
- Be able to understand anger dynamics in terms of the anger cycle and the fight or flight theory.
- Know common myths about anger and
- Know helpful and unhelpful ways of dealing with anger
- Know techniques in controlling anger
- Reflect on your personal triggers and anger dynamics
Before we discuss specific anger management strategies, it is help to first understand the nature of anger. While most people are familiar with this emotion, not everyone is aware of its underlying dynamics. In this module, we will discuss the cycle of anger, the fight or flight response and common myths about anger.
The Cycle of Anger
Anger is a natural emotion that usually stems from a perceived loss or threat. It is a pervasive emotion that affects our body, thoughts, feelings and behavior. Anger is often described in terms of intensity, frequency, duration, threshold and expressing. Anger typically follows a predictable pattern – a cycle.
Understanding that cycle of anger can help us understand our own anger reactions and those of others. It can also help in considering the most appropriate response. This image shows the five phases of the anger cycle – trigger, escalation, crisis, recover and depression.
The TRIGGER PHASE happens when we perceive a threat or loss and our body prepares to respond. In this phase, there is a subtle change from an individual’s normal adaptive state into his stressed state. Anger triggers different from person to person and can come from both the environment or from our own thought processes.
During the ESCALATION PHASE, phase two, the progressive appearance of an anger response becomes evident. It is in this phase that our body prepares for a crisis. After receiving the trigger this preparation is mostly physical and is manifested through symptoms like:
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
- A rise in blood pressure
Once the escalation phase is reached, there is less chance of calming down as this is the phase where the body becomes engaged in the stress response and prepares to fight or flee.
As previously mentioned, the escalation phase is progressive. It is in this CRISIS PHASE, phase 3, that the anger reaction reaches its peak. Our bodies are on full alert and are prepared to take action in response to the trigger. During this phase, logic and rationality may be limited if not impaired because the anger instinct takes over.
In extreme cases, the crisis phase means that a person may be in serious danger to himself or to other people.
Phase 4, the RECOVERY PHASE, happens when anger has been spent or at least controlled and there is a steady return to a person’s normal adaptive state. In this stage, reasoning and self-awareness return. If the right intervention is applied, the return to normalcy regresses smoothly. However, an inappropriate intervention can reignite the anger and serve as a new trigger.
The DEPRESSION PHASE, Phase 5, marks a return to a person’s normal adaptive ways physically. This stage marks below normal vital signs such as lowered heart rate, so the body can recover equilibrium. A person’s full use of his facilities return at this point, and the new awareness helps a person assess what just occurred. Consequently this stage may be marked by embarrassment, guilt, regret or depression.
The end of the depression phase is marked by a return to a normal adaptive state of being.
Understanding Fight Or Flight
The Fight or Flight Theory, formulated by Walter Cannon, describes how people react to a perceived threat. Basically, when faced with something that can harm us, we either aggress (fight) or withdraw (flight). It is believed that this reaction is an ingrained instinct geared toward survival.
The fight or flight instinct is manifested in the body when faced with a threat. Our body releases the hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals are designed to take us to a state of alertness and action. They result in increased energy, increased heart rate, slowed digestion and above normal strength, among other things. Understanding the fight or flight instinct can help us understand the dynamics of our anger response. The following are some of the implications of the fight or flight theory for anger management.
- First, the theory underscores how anger is a natural response. There is no morality to anger. Anger is a result if perceived harm to self, whether physical or emotional.
- Second, this theory reminds us of the need to stay in control when we are angry. Our rationale and self gets overridden by a basic survival instinct to act immediately. This instinct can then result in aggressiveness, over reactivity or hyper vigilance, all which are contrary to rational and deliberate response. Conscious effort toward self awareness and control is needed so that this instinct does not overpower us.
Here are five common myths about anger.
MYTH #1: Anger is a bad emotion. There’s no such thing as a good or bad emotion. Our emotions actually provide us with important information about how we are perceiving our environment – both internally and externally. In fact, some anger reactions are appropriate, such as anger against discrimination, injustice and abuse. What can be judged as positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy, is how we react to anger.
MYTH #2: Anger needs to be unleashed for it to go away. It’s true that anger needs to be expressed in order for symptoms to be released. However, expressing anger in a verbally or physically aggressive way is not always the way to unleash anger. Nor is anger an excuse for a person to be aggressive. The expression of anger can be tempered by rationality and forethought. Note that venting anger does not necessarily result in the anger disappearing, although venting can relieve the symptoms at times. Processing personal experiences and concrete change and genuine forgiveness are needed for anger to go away.
MYTH #3: Ignoring anger will make it go away. Generally, all kinds of emotions do not disappear. When ignored, anger just gets temporarily shelved and will likely find other ways of getting expressed. It can’t get projected to another person, transformed into a physical symptom or build up for a bigger future block. Some of the behaviors may even be unconscious ways of expressing anger. While there are situations where it is not advisable to express your anger immediately, the very least you can do is acknowledge it exists.
MYTH #4: You can’t control your anger. This myth is related to the second one. As discussed earlier, the fight or flight instinct can make anger an overwhelming emotion. However, this instinct does not mean that you are a slave to your impulses. Awareness of anger dynamics and a conscious effort to rise above your anger can help you regain control of your reactions.
MYTH #5: If I don’t get angry, people will think I’m a pushover. It’s true that a person can lose credibility if he makes rules then ignores violations. However, anger is not the only way a person can show that there are consequences to violations. In fact, the most effective way of instilling discipline in others is to have a calm, non-emotional approach to deal with Rule Breakers.
We all get angry. It’s a normal emotion. However, some of us handle our anger better than others.
While one person might be a bit unhappy when someone cuts him off in traffic, another is so angry that he shouts and swears, and starts driving aggressively himself.
How can the same event cause such different reactions? And how can you make sure that your reaction is the calm one, instead of the wild one?
How Good Is Your Anger Management?
So how well do you manage your anger? Use the online test to find out how well you do.
Managing anger will brings many benefits. It can help you:
- Achieve your goals: anger can give you energy for things that matter to you. You can make the energy work for you to overcome frustration or disappointment.
- Respond to problems and threats: anger acts as a warning signal, so you can:
- Think about what triggered the anger and what you can do to address it
- React quickly, if you’re in danger
- Enjoy better relationships: Expressing anger constructively lets you and others address problems with respect. It keeps anger from damaging relationships.
- Other benefits of managing anger well include:
- Feeling better physically and mentally
- Taking pride in how you handle things
- Enjoying life more.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Now that we’ve established that anger is a natural, unavoidable and instinctual reaction, let’s look at how we can respond to anger appropriately. But first, let’s look at some unhelpful ways of dealing with anger.
Don’t ignore the anger. Some people respond to anger by not admitting, even to themselves, that they are angry. Defense mechanisms often used to ignore anger include laughing an issue off, distracting yourself from the problem or trivializing the triggers.
Don’t keep the anger inside. Some people do not recognize that they are angry. However, they choose to obsess about their anger in silence rather than expressing it. These people often bear grudges for a long time. When you hold anger in, eventually, it will come out – often at inappropriate times and in inappropriate ways.
Don’t get aggressive. The right to vent your anger doesn’t extent to doing it in ways that can hurt others, hurt yourself and damage property. Aggression can be verbal or physical.
Don’t get passive aggressive. Passive aggressive refers to the indirect and underhanded means to get back at the person who made you angry. Examples of passive aggressive behaviors are gossiping, tardiness and backbiting.
Don’t use non-constructive communication styles. Avoid the use of indirect attaches and unproductive statements. These include: blaming, labeling, preaching, moralizing, ordering, warning, ridiculing and lecturing.
Here are a few tips for effectively managing anger:
Think before you speak. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say something you’ll later regret. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts before saying anything — and allow others involved in the situation to do the same.
Once you’re calm, express your anger. As soon as you’re thinking clearly, express your frustration in an assertive but non-confrontational way. State your concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them.
Get some exercise. Physical activity can help reduce stress that can cause you to become angry. If you feel your anger escalating, go for a brisk walk or run, or spend some time doing other enjoyable physical activities.
Take a timeout. Timeouts aren’t just for kids. Give yourself short breaks during times of the day that tend to be stressful. A few moments of quiet time might help you feel better prepared to handle what’s ahead without getting irritated or angry.
Identify possible solutions. Instead of focusing on what made you mad, work on resolving the issue at hand. Does your child’s messy room drive you crazy? Close the door. Is your partner late for dinner every night? Schedule meals later in the evening — or agree to eat on your own a few times a week. Remind yourself that anger won’t fix anything and might only make it worse.
Stick with ‘I’ statements. To avoid criticizing or placing blame — which might only increase tension — use “I” statements to describe the problem. Be respectful and specific. For example, say, “I’m upset that you left the table without offering to help with the dishes” instead of “You never do any housework.”
Don’t hold a grudge. Forgiveness is a powerful tool. If you allow anger and other negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice. But if you can forgive someone who angered you, you might both learn from the situation and strengthen your relationship.
Use humor to release tension. Lightening up can help diffuse tension. Use humor to help you face what’s making you angry and, possibly, any unrealistic expectations you have for how things should go. Avoid sarcasm, though — it can hurt feelings and make things worse.
Practice relaxation skills. When your temper flares, put relaxation skills to work. Practice deep-breathing exercises, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase, such as “Take it easy.” You might also listen to music, write in a journal or do a few yoga poses — whatever it takes to encourage relaxation.
Know when to seek help. Learning to control anger is a challenge for everyone at times. Seek help for anger issues if your anger seems out of control, causes you to do things you regret or hurts those around you.
CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve completed the course and are now well equipped to tame your temper. CLICK HERE to take the completion quiz and get credit for the course.