Everyone experiences feelings of anger at some time. It can be anything from mild annoyance to full-blown rage. When a person's angry feelings become too intense or too frequent - or are expressed in hurtful or overly aggressive ways - anger has become a problem. Out-of-control anger can be a destructive force that leaves lasting scars on family members and partners, alienates friends and coworkers, damages careers and leads to physical and emotional illnesses.
For some service members and family members, the stresses associated with military life, such as the emotional toll of repeated deployments, can make anger more of a problem in their lives. Anger is more likely to result when problems aren't properly addressed and stress piles up. Honest self-inspection helps you determine whether you are holding onto and building up angry feelings and how these feelings are eventually released.
Think about how you manage you anger. Consider some of these questions:
- Do you feel angry all the time? Do you often blow up over trivial matters?
- Do the people around you complain about your temper? Are you known as a hothead?
- Have you experienced road rage? Do you worry that your anger is out of your control?
If you're concerned about your anger, the most important thing to know is that you can do something about it. Learning how to manage anger means recognizing how it affects you and acquiring new skills to help you respond to it more constructively. Practicing the techniques in this article can help you manage your anger in three ways: by reducing the intensity of your angry feelings, by changing your thinking patterns in anger-inducing situations and by modifying your actions in response to anger.
Managing your feelings
When you feel your anger begin to rise, the first thing you can do is try to calm your feelings. These techniques have helped many people to cool down:
- Take a timeout. There's nothing wrong with stopping to count to 10 or say a prayer to calm yourself. Slowing down and distracting yourself will help defuse your anger. If necessary, take a break by going for a walk or listening to music. (If you're involved in a conflict with another person, be sure to make it clear that you'll return after you calm down.)
- Use relaxation techniques. Many different relaxation methods can be used to help calm angry feelings. You might try breathing deeply or listening to calming music, or you can try visualizing a peaceful place you have visited or would like to visit. Books and online resources are readily available to help you learn relaxation techniques.
Managing your thoughts
Angry people sometimes have negative and irrational thought patterns that can trigger or escalate their anger. These techniques can help you restructure your thinking when you're angry and begin to replace irrational thoughts with a more balanced perspective on the situation:
- When you get angry, stop and evaluate the situation logically. Ask yourself these questions: Is my anger appropriate to the situation? Are my expectations of other people reasonable? Am I jumping to conclusions about what another person thinks or feels? Am I dwelling on the negatives while overlooking the positives in a person or situation? Am I over generalizing? (Clues to listen for are "never" and "always" within a criticism.)
- Look for alternative ways of thinking about people, places and things that set you off. When you begin to evaluate situations more closely, you might see that there are other ways to think about them. For example, thinking: "The boss never shows me any appreciation" might become "He probably has a lot on his mind right now" or "Maybe she's not the type to give a lot of feedback."
- Try to see the other person's point of view. Imagine what the person on the receiving end of your anger is thinking or feeling. When you put yourself in the other person's shoes and allow yourself to feel empathy, it may lessen your anger. Also, entertain the thought that ‘possibly' you are partially right and the other person is also partially right. Moving from a win/lose perspective to a win/win point of view will help calm your anger and also increase chances of a compromise later.
Managing your actions
Your success in managing your anger can ultimately be judged by whether you change your behavior when you get angry. Keep in mind that your goal is not to suppress or eliminate anger but to express it in constructive ways. These are the skills that can help you manage your actions, hopefully leading to a more satisfying life and healthy:
- Communicate your anger in assertive - not aggressive - ways. Assertive communication means expressing your feelings and your needs in a respectful, non-confrontational manner. Your goal should be to get another person to understand the reason for your anger without blaming or being demanding or hostile. It helps if you use "I" statements to describe the problem ("I'm upset that you didn't tell me first" versus "You never consider my feelings"). Assertive communication also means listening and making sure the other person knows you've heard what was said.
- Focus on solving the problem. Angry outbursts do nothing to solve problems. Also, venting should not be confused with working toward a solution. Using an angry episode to list all of your unresolved grievances is like throwing kerosene on a fire. It will only make the situation worse. Your anger becomes easier to manage when you can single out and identify the problem and focus on how you will face it or handle it. Don't give up if you can't solve a problem right away. Some problems are more difficult to work through than others, but if you stay focused on problem solving, you'll be less likely to lose control of your temper or fall into irrational thinking.
When to seek help
If you've tried to put these anger management techniques into practice and your anger is still a problem, it may be time to consider getting extra support.
- Anger management classes give you the opportunity to practice anger management skills in a setting where you can also learn from others trying to positively address the same issues. Classes and groups are available on military installations and in civilian communities. Check with your installation Military and Family Support Center for available classes and resources. You can also call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 for help finding anger management programs in your local community.
- Non-medical counseling may also be helpful in learning more about the reasons behind your anger, preventing anger and managing it. Non-medical counseling is designed to address short-term issues such as improving relationships at home and work, stress management, adjustment issues (like, returning from a deployment), marital problems, parenting and grief and loss issues. You can receive confidential non-medical counseling through Military OneSource (up to 12 no-cost sessions in person, telephonically or online). You can call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 for more information.
You have more control over your anger than you might think. Anger management skills may take some time and practice, but the rewards will be worth it. You'll find that you're better able to get your needs met, achieve your goals and have a more satisfying life.