Someone slides into the parking spot right in front of you. A coworker takes credit for your work. Your spouse runs up $200 on the credit card without discussing it first. These are all things that are apt to make you angry. And that’s OK. But if you don’t know how to control your anger, you could be in trouble.
Anger is a natural response to many life events. Like other emotions, anger helps us understand our world and how we feel about it. When managed well, anger can provide a healthy release and be a motivator for transformation. But when we experience too much anger, to the point of becoming out of control, it can have devastating consequences on our relationships, career, and even our health.
What happens to your brain on anger
When anger reaches a very high level, our pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for cognitive thought and reasoning, becomes hijacked. The amygdala, our primal emotional/instinctual part of our brain that induces the “fight or flight“ response, takes over and we are no longer capable of rational thought.
When pushed to anger, our brains can no longer take any new information. This means if someone is trying to talk sense into us and explain something, we cannot hear them. All we are aware is that we must defend ourselves as if our very life depends on it. We feel under extreme attack and are ready to fight back. (Remember, the emotional/instinctual part of your brain can’t differentiate getting chased by tiger or your spouse pissing you off).
That’s why when someone tries to explain themselves when you’re extremely angry, it doesn’t work. Your brain can’t process it in the moment.
How to control your anger
Now that you know how your brain responds, it’s time to learn some techniques to learn how to control your anger.
Take a break
Now you know that the more angry you get, the more your brain shuts down and becomes unable to process any information. So there’s no sense in you continuing to talk or argue with someone. Your best course of action is to put the fire out before it begins to rage by calling a timeout and taking a break. Walk away. Take some time to let your body calm down. It’s important not to spend that time ruminating or obsessing on what made you angry in the first place.
The body’s “fight or flight“ response releases powerful hormones that are intended to help us survive. This ancient defense mechanism originates from the days when we we had to stave off Saber-Tooth Tigers.
Without this physical release, these hormones can linger in the body and cause health problems. Going for a walk, run or lifting weights can be a great way to burn through these hormones and relieves soothing endorphins.
The key to breathing is in the exhale. Most people make the mistake of taking a quick, deep inhale which only induces the fight or flight response further. The objective is to initiate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the opposite of the fight or flight response. This triggers the relaxation response in the body.
The easiest way to trigger the relaxation response in the body is slow, long exhalations. Breathe in through your nose to a count of 4 or 5 and slowly exhale to a count of 10 to 15. Remember, the key is slow. Do this 4-5 times and you’ll find yourself on the path to calm.
Seek anger management counseling
Managing anger can be very challenging, especially in the beginning. If you have a history of chronic anger and angry outbursts, a well-trained therapist will be able to help you learn and implement strategies and techniques to manage your outbursts and prevent you from further damaging the relationships in your life.
Life is too short to feel angry all the time. If you’ve tried these things and you still haven’t figured out how to control your anger, find an awesome therapist you like and trust to help you manage your anger in a way that is helpful and guides you toward a rich and meaningful life. Anger can be your friend. You just have to learn how to use.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.