Anger is a common and valid emotion – one which can have positive benefits – but if you’re worried that your outbursts are spinning out of control, there are techniques to help you curb your temper. Katie Conibear gives some tips
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful
We all get angry. It’s a natural emotion that we may experience from time-to-time, but the way it presents itself can be different for everyone – and how we deal with anger often reflects our personality. We might become overwhelmed by the anger we’re feeling, and this is especially true of some mental illnesses, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
I live with bipolar disorder, and during manic episodes I struggle with explosive anger. For instance, I once punched a wall because I couldn’t find my hairbrush; it was very awkward and embarrassing to explain to my landlord why there was a dent in the bedroom wall. Like everyone, though, even when I’m stable, I also have times when I struggle with moments of anger.
Many of us often feel uncomfortable about, and even embarrassed by, our anger. The physical reactions in our bodies, and the feeling of being out of control, can be really difficult to deal with. “Anger is a response to a stimulus, or to something happening that you need to take action on,” counsellor and psychologist Philip Karahassan explains. “It’s a normal bodily response that is simply letting you know that something needs to get done. So, it’s a motivator. However, anger gets a bad reputation as it is seen as something destructive that takes you over.”
I spoke to Liz, who has BPD with mixed anxiety and depressive disorder, about the anger she experiences, and how she’s learnt to manage it. “Anger can be quite a big thing in BPD, as our emotions are so extreme, so anger can explode. I’ve found that to deal with my anger in a healthy way has been hard, as I used to self-harm, and turn it all inwards.
“Now I try to force myself to take a step back and evaluate the situation. Kind of checking the facts (a dialectical behaviour therapy skill), and seeing if my anger is justified – but also not allowing myself to explode, but, instead, show my anger in a more constructive way.”
It’s important to accept when we feel angry. Sometimes, showing we’re angry can be a positive thing, as it can help us share our worries or concerns. It can show someone how passionate we are, how much we care about a subject or a problem. It can help us stand up for ourselves when we feel we’ve been wronged. It can motivate us to do something positive. It’s OK to be angry.
But our anger can sometimes become a problem if we don’t manage it in a healthy way. We can feel overwhelmed by it, and can’t see a way to move past it. With bipolar, I often feel trapped by my anger. I get stuck in what feels like a never-ending cycle, and it can be over the most trivial of things. Maybe there’s a problem we can’t fix; we feel frustrated with someone or something, but don’t know how to express it. Or maybe we’ve learnt to internalise our anger, and let it build up until it explodes. Either we turn it on ourselves, or on the people around us. When it becomes all-encompassing, and we can’t move past it, then we need to find remedies to deal with it.
So how can we learn to manage our anger?
Keep an eye out for warning signs that you’re becoming angry; these are physical responses we can all identify with. It might be that your heart starts beating faster, or maybe you feel your body becoming tense, and you’re clenching parts of your body, such as your fists or jaw.
Philip Karahassan suggests some techniques to manage your anger. “You have to be aware that if you haven’t taken control over the parts of your life that made you angry, then they will build up, causing you to get angry when you feel a similar way to the initial response to anger that you never dealt with.
“Learn to pause for a moment and see the anger as something that is positive and useful to you. Work out a way to use the anger to solve the problem, or gain control over the situation. Ask yourself if you are angry at that situation, or maybe a similar situation from the past, that you need to understand and rectify.
“Start using anger as a signpost to let you know that something is wrong and you need to take action to fix it. Then the anger will be used adequately, and eventually dissipate.”
Walk away from the situation, if you can. Go for a walk, or have a good vent and rant with someone you trust, and who doesn’t mind you letting off some steam. Learn some breathing techniques, and count to 10 before answering or reacting. There are a number of breathing apps that can guide you through some useful techniques.
It might also help to work off the anger. Exercise is a positive way to expel unwanted anger. It doesn’t just have to be exercise; you can use other tools to manage an outburst of anger. Sometimes we just want to hit something, so try hitting a pillow. I have a big bag of ice cubes in my freezer that I’ll smash on the kitchen floor, or in the sink. It’s oddly therapeutic!
If you’re not comfortable expressing your anger in a physical way, distraction might be the way to go. Keeping your hands busy, such as making something, crafting, or painting, may help. You might want to confront the root cause of the anger, and this is where journaling comes in; writing down your thoughts can help you work through emotions.
Use whatever techniques work for you. If anger continues to be a problem, seek out some therapy. This could help identify any underlying issues that are causing the anger or a potential undiagnosed mental illness.
Remember, you’re not alone in your anger. We all have times when we struggle to manage it.