People always told me I was a calm person. And I thought the same.
I’m one of those people in the room who stay silent and composed no matter how heated the situation gets instead of losing control. Until my therapist revealed to me that I had internalized my anger. This meant I was turning my anger inward, consequently indulging in self-harm, self-loathing, and self-criticism, rather than turning it outward. It wasn’t that I never got angry, it’s that I never showed that I was angry. I thought I was doing a good job by repressing my anger but actually, I terribly needed help.
I learned that repressed emotions manifest themselves in mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Unresolved anger can also lead to physical conditions including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and digestive problems.
I didn’t want any of this. So I decided to work on my anger and address it in healthy ways. I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t force myself to feel better instead I would deal with my negative feelings.
Anger is not a bad emotion you need to get rid of, in fact, it’s good in a lot of ways. For example, your anger tells you about things that you really care about. Consequently, you learn where you need to set boundaries. People investigating into your private matters makes you angry? That’s an indicator you care about privacy and need to set boundaries there.
One practice I adopted to manage my anger was journaling. Since I’ve always expressed myself in writing, I decided I would express my anger through this medium too. Here’s how it helped me.
I Became Aware of My Triggers and Consequently Learned to Control My Response to Situations
Before I started journaling, it seemed everything and anything could make me angry. I would blow up at every other person around me at the slightest provocation. I didn’t know why I was angry. I just knew I was angry.
But when I began writing in my journal every time I would get angry, I began to notice a pattern. There were certain cues in my environment that would trigger my anger. One of them was my mother. She’s a hotheaded, short-tempered individual who can test anyone’s patience. So I decided whenever she would get on my nerves with her pointless bickering and drama, I would remind myself that she’s doesn’t know what she’s talking about and that I wouldn’t let her control my mood.
Similarly, I became aware of all triggers in my environment that would infuriate me after I began writing them down. Here’s what happened.
The next time I felt triggered, I labeled the feeling ‘anger’ and detached myself from it.
Then I would pause and decide how to respond to the situation. Did this situation or person really deserve my anger or were they only messing with my head?
This exercise proved to be a gamechanger because it helped me take charge of the situation and react consciously instead of acting on autopilot. One study shows that when we put our negative feelings into words, either by talking or writing, they become less intense.
The bottom line is don’t ignore your anger, Don’t force yourself to feel you’re okay. Instead, acknowledge your anger and know what triggers it.
I Let Out My Anger on Paper Instead of People
Once I understood and accepted my anger, the next thing was learning how to deal with it.
Whenever we’re angry, we act on impulse. We yell, swear, and break things. Sure our anger leaves us but regret takes its place. We end up hurting our relationships and reputation. It takes months to undo the damage, and sometimes the damage is never undone.
The solution is not to bottle your anger. You shouldn’t just sit there in silence and let your anger eat you from the inside. The solution is to express it in healthy ways. Boxing, punching, writing angry letters are some ways to channelize this negative energy. As for me, I use my journal to swear, yell, and say every vile thing imaginable to the person who angered me that I otherwise couldn’t imagine saying out loud.
I have always thanked past self for not acting in heat of the moment but keeping her cool and expressing her negative feelings in writing.
When you’re angry, it’s important to distance yourself from the emotion and not become your emotion. Don’t say “I am angry”. Say “I feel angry”. This implies that a part of you is angry, not your whole being.
When you become your emotion you feel powerless and your emotion takes control of you. But when you distance yourself from your emotion, you become in-charge and decide how you would respond.
Other Psychological Techniques to Keep Your Anger at Bay
1. Define your anger.
Anger, like any other emotion, can be understood via introspection. Beth Jacobs, Ph.D. in her book Writing for Emotional Balance: A Guided Journal to Help You Manage Overwhelming Emotions suggests that you describe your emotions in three parts: sensory experiences, thought processes, and physical sensations.
If I do this exercise, here’s how I would define my anger:
- Sensory experiences: Someone yelling. Heat.
- Physical sensations: Lump in my throat. Headache. Irregular breathing. Teeth clenching.
- Thought processes: “It’s not my fault!” “Shut up!” “Why does all shit have to happen to me?”
Beth says that it also helps to describe your emotion as if it was a color, weather, music, landscape, and object. This simple exercise helps you breakdown your anger and detach from it. Like I said earlier, your anger is not you, it’s a part of you.
2. Pause and take deep breaths.
When you notice yourself becoming angry, pause. Now start to breathe from your diaphragm very slowly. This is known as ‘diaphragmatic breathing’. Even if you take three deep breaths, you’ll notice yourself calming down.
Repeating phrases in your head such as ‘calm down’, ‘take it easy’ or ‘relax’ can also help.
3. Change your environment.
Our environments contain our emotional triggers. When you find yourself in a room with someone who is trying to turn your anger switch on, get up, and leave the room.
This will give you space to gather your thoughts and think rationally. You can use this time to do the diaphragmatic breathing exercise I mentioned above.
4. Force yourself to smile.
Try to see the funny side of things if you can. Of course, not all situations have funny sides but most do. Science has shown that simply forcing yourself to smile can help you feel better and even boost your immune system.
Over time, I’ve realized that not all situations and people are worth my energy. Some people don’t even deserve my anger. That doesn’t mean I should repress it. Anger, when repressed for too long, becomes more toxic to one’s mental and physical health. It’s worse than anger expressed.
Instead, I save my anger for situations where it's absolutely necessary to express it. In most cases, I choose to hold my anger long enough only to let it out in my journal later. This exercise has saved me tons of regrets while also giving me an outlet for my negative emotions.
If you want to manage your anger, follow these steps:
- Step 1: Become aware of your triggers
- Step 2: When you find yourself getting angry, pause.
- Step 4: Label the emotion. Tell yourself, “I feel anger”
- Step 5: Start breathing slowly from your diaphragm until you feel your body relaxing
- Step 6: Remove yourself from the environment (if possible)
- Step 7: Write your angry feelings in your journal
- Step 8: Repeat the above steps
Although I’ve learned to manage my anger to a great extent, I’m still working on it. It’s something that requires a lot of work but do it for your future self who will thank you.