Stop: A toolbox for anger management

26 February 2024 - 12:41 By Kersha Singh
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Anger can be channelled more constructively to become your superpower.
Anger can be channelled more constructively to become your superpower.
Image: 123RF

Anger can be a highly destructive force or a powerful motivator, depending on how we decide to use it. The emotion can be channelled more constructively to become your superpower.

Anger is a natural feeling that affects everyone. It is a normal emotion with a broad range of intensity from mild irritation and frustration to rage and aggression.

Getting angry may be in reaction to a perceived threat or pent-up frustration, and it can be helpful to take note of what triggers your feelings of anger and try to identify the cause. Anger can be triggered in many spaces, such as when sitting in traffic or at home with your family, and if it’s not dealt with in a healthy way, it can have potentially devastating and life-changing consequences.

Often people are more guarded about expressing anger in the workplace, even though stress at work may be a significant underlying contributor to the feelings. The anonymity of being in traffic, or the relative freedom to express emotions in the home environment, may manifest this anger as road rage or irritation, potentially even violence, with loved ones.

If we allow anger to get out of control, it can cloud our thinking and judgement and may lead to irrational and destructive behaviours that can harm our relationships, health, work and quality of life. The good news is that it is not too late for adults to learn to control their anger. This can be a very empowering experience when, instead of reacting angrily, we can learn to transform our approach to respond to the situation more positively.

If we are willing to acknowledge our triggers, even if we cannot fully control them, we can learn how to cope more healthily. The more we identify situations, environments and people who trigger angry feelings, the better we can manage these scenarios and hopefully learn to respond calmly and constructively in challenging situations.

Anger management is a set of skills. If we practise, we get better at mastering it. For instance, with dialectical behavioural therapy, we help teach people practical coping skills to manage their anger in the moment and on a long-term basis to reduce the intensity of the feelings.

The first step is often impulse control. Identifying that our anger is in response to specific triggers, and what it is about the situation that consistently makes us feel this way, is helpful towards managing the temporary distress, knowing it will pass.

With the right tools, it is possible to break the cycle of anger, and there are very effective non-pharmaceutical ways of redirecting the emotion more productively and, ultimately, more satisfyingly.

Toolbox to help cool a hot temper:

When something makes you angry, try to work towards responding rather than reacting to the situation. When you start to feel triggered or overwhelmed, STOP.

  • S — STOP. Pause. Don’t react in the heat of the moment. Count to 10.
  • T — Take a step back. Remove yourself from the situation by taking a walk or bathroom break.
  • O — Observe. There is no need to respond when you feel overwhelmed. Wait until you have a more objective perspective.
  • P — Proceed mindfully. Try deep breathing in through your nose for the count of four, and out through your mouth more slowly.

The physical feelings of being hot and flustered that come with being angry can exacerbate our perception of the situation, and actively cooling the body temperature can help us feel better. Drinking cold water, splashing your face and wrists, having a cool shower or stepping into an air-conditioned room can break the experience of feeling “hot under the collar”.

When a situation is out of your control and triggering angry feelings, it is recommended you distract yourself for a mental break. Read a magazine, listen to relaxing music, play a game or get absorbed in something creative.

Intense exercise is an ideal way to let off steam. If you’re feeling annoyed with a loved one, try going for a run instead of reacting angrily. Increasing your heart rate for 10 to 20 minutes will help relieve some tension so you can return calmer.

If you find you are bringing anger from work stress home, try stopping at the gym on your way home to release some of the day’s tension and frustrations before you get home. This can also improve the quality of your leisure time at home with your loved ones.

If we feel angry, we can use it as motivation to channel our behaviour into more assertive or constructive communication. Proceed mindfully as being assertive and respectfully communicating your feelings towards the situation by having a discussion or writing a letter about what has upset you, and suggesting how your needs could be better met, can be productive.

As well as these short-term strategies for responding better to anger, it is important to address the underlying factors to resolve the source of discomfort in the long term. Use the energy from the anger and redirect it to work towards creating a lasting solution, whether working towards building a different career that may reduce your stress or freeing yourself from a toxic relationship, for example.

Occupational therapist Kersha Singh is a Cope manager at Netcare Askeso Kenilworth

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