- Do you get frustrated and annoyed by the slightest thing?
- Do you find yourself saying hurtful things when someone has annoyed you?
- Have you damaged or thrown things because you were so furious?
- Have you been physically aggressive towards someone?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ you may be experiencing problems relating to anger and you may find this helpful.
This aims to help you to:
- Recognise whether you may be experiencing anger problems.
- Understand what anger is, what causes it and what keeps it going.
- Find ways to understand, manage or overcome your anger.
Strategies that you could use to overcome your anger problems:
- Understanding more about anger.
- Learning how to challenge your unhelpful thoughts and see things in a more realistic light.
- Learning how you can feel more relaxed, both physically and mentally.
- Improving your problem solving skills.
- Consider making positive changes to your lifestyle.
- Improving your communication skills.
If you experience problems with anger, then it is likely that you will recognise many of the feelings, physical symptoms, thoughts and behaviour patterns described below.
Raised blood pressure
Everything is ruined
I have to do something about this
This is so unfair
They deserve it
I’ve been let down
Say hurtful things
Shouting and swearing
Physical violence towards things or people
Storming out of a situation
Anger is an emotion that we all feel at times. It can become a problem if it is too extreme, occurs at inappropriate times, or lasts too long. Anger can be just a simple irritation with something. At the other extreme, it can result in hysterical shouting, screaming and lashing out. Anger can often have a negative impact on our relationships and our work. It can also change the way that we feel about ourselves. We might tend to blame other people or a particular situation for our anger. Often we feel angry when we feel let down in some way or denied of something that we feel entitled to.
Physical feelings are experienced when your body reacts to stress, fear or anxiety. These symptoms are often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. This reaction quickly and helpfully prepares the body for action. It prepares us to either protect against or escape danger.
- Making our heart beat faster – to supply more blood to our muscles.
- Producing more sweat – to cool us down.
- Tensing our muscles – getting them ready for action.
- Taking deeper and quicker breaths – to supply oxygen to our muscles.
- Shutting down body functions that aren’t needed at the time e.g. digestion.
- Racing thoughts – quickly narrowing the available options to make a quick response.
In the past such a reaction would have offered us some protection. Preparing us to react quickly in case of predators, and aiding survival as we hunted and gathered food. These days we do not depend so much upon running or fighting as we negotiate difficult circumstances. The symptoms described above are therefore less helpful. They may even end up being quite confusing. Threats like money problems, difficulties at work, unhelpful staff or rude drivers do not require such an extreme physical reaction. These symptoms are not dangerous in themselves. In many ways it is a useful response, but at the wrong time. We need not fear the fight or flight reaction. It is our body’s healthy protection system. Understanding this can help you to manage the physical symptoms. You need not worry about them or feel that you need to respond or react. You can allow them to pass, as they will do quite quickly.
There may be consequences to angry behaviour; both costs and benefits. Many people recognise that angry behaviour can achieve short-term gain. For example, getting your own way, or having others respect your status. It can also be associated with significant long-term costs, such as damaged relationships. Considering these for yourself might encourage a change or convince you that you need to take action.
When looking more closely at what prevents us from overcoming anger problems, it becomes clear that our behaviour, thoughts, feelings and physical sensations all interact and combine to keep our problems with anger going.
You may have been dealing with at least some of these difficulties for a while already. Think about what you’ve done so far to cope, and how effective these strategies have been.
- Will it be helpful in the long-term, or is it possible that they might be keeping your difficulties going? For example:
- Avoiding speaking to your best friend in case you get angry with them again.
- Think about how you might have coped well with difficulties in the past.
- What is going well currently and what you are doing to achieve that?
- What coping strategies and support do you have available to you? Could you be making better use of these?
- Social support – speaking to people; family, friends, relatives, colleagues, etc.
- Confidence – being sure of your own ability to cope.
- Problem solving – being able to work out solutions to problems.
- Self-awareness – knowing how this problem effects you; your body, thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
- Looking after yourself – making sure that you have some time to yourself. For example going for walks, having a relaxing bath, etc.
The way that we think about things has an impact on our stress levels and mood. Many of these thoughts occur outside of our control, and can be negative or unhelpful. It is therefore important to remember that they are just thoughts, without any real basis, and are not necessarily facts. Even though we may believe a lot of our unhelpful thoughts when we are feeling angry, it is good to remember that they should be questioned as they are often based on wrong assumptions.
The following section will help you begin to recognise if you are thinking about things in an unhelpful or unrealistic way, and discuss how you can start to make changes to this.
- I am entitled to certain things
- I must stand up for myself
- I cannot tolerate frustration
- Everyone’s out to get me
- No one else is on my side
- Someone else is always to blame
- I have to express my frustration
- It’s not good to hold back this strong emotion
You might find it difficult to identify an unhelpful thought. Try thinking about a time when you felt angry. Consider what was running through your mind at that time.
First you need to be able to recognise an unhelpful thought. Then you can challenge it. Being aware of the common patterns that unhelpful thoughts follow can help you to recognise when you have them. Here are some of the common patterns that our unhelpful thoughts follow:
- What if they laugh at me?
- What if I lose all respect?
Taking things personally
- They did that on purpose.
- They must think I’m stupid.
Ignoring the positive
- Despite that person letting me out he is now right at my bumper.
- My kids are a nightmare, never mind how nicely they played with each other earlier.
All or nothing
- That was a complete waste of time.
- They must hate me.
- I should always get full marks.
- Failing my driving test means I’ll fail at everything.
- The neighbour’s dog snarled at me, all dogs are vicious!
- I’m useless
Once you have recognised an unhelpful thought the next stage is to challenge it. To do this, you can ask yourself a serious of questions. See the example below:
- He’s never talked to me before.
- I’ve never met him.
- I’m jumping to conclusions.
- Labelling myself.
- I would say you don’t know what he’s thinking or why he looked over.
- Costs: I am likely to be on edge a lot and suspicious of other people.
- Benefits: I can’t think of any.
- I’ll probably look back and laugh about how silly I was being.
- I don’t actually know why he looked over here, but perhaps he was looking for someone.
Once you have asked yourself these questions, you should read through your answers. Try to come up with a more balanced or rational view. For example:
It is important to make time to relax and do activities that are enjoyable. This can help to improve your mood and help you to manage your angry feelings by calming the body and mind. It can also help you to sleep. Without taking the time to unwind, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Relaxation can involve doing something that you enjoy, or just being by yourself. Good examples might be reading a book or having a bath. Exercise is also particularly effective at helping us to relax. What you do does not really matter. Try to choose something that you will look forward to and that gives you a break. Doing an activity that you enjoy will also give you less time to spend worrying. Here are a list of activities that might help you to relax.
- Do some exercise (e.g. swim, cycle)
- Read a book
- Watch your favourite TV show
- Go to the cinema
- Do something creative (e.g. draw, paint)
- Visit a friend or family member
- Have a bath
Try to find time to relax every day. This might seem difficult, but it is worth making time for. It can help you to feel a lot better. There are audio relaxation guides available that you might find a helpful support.
There are also some exercises described in the next few pages. They are specifically designed to help you to relax. However, you should stop the exercise if at any time you begin to experience discomfort or pain.
This simple technique involves focusing on and slowing down our breathing patterns. Many people find this simple exercise very relaxing. It can be particularly helpful for those who feel dizzy or light headed when they feel worried or stressed. This sometimes happens because people’s breathing changes and gets quicker when they feel distressed.
This can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. It can make people even more on edge, and a vicious cycle can occur. Learning controlled breathing exercises can help you to manage these feelings more effectively. It can also help to give your mind and body a chance to calm down.
Remember, you can use this exercise to help you relax at any time. You could even use it to help you get off to sleep. However, it is particularly useful if you ever feel light-headed, dizzy or faint.
Tension often builds up when we feel upset or stressed. These symptoms can be painful and can cause anxiety in themselves. Muscular relaxation exercises can help you to control such unpleasant symptoms. They can reduce physical tension and help you to relax in general.
During this exercise you have to tense and then relax different muscles in your body. You should focus on the feelings that you experience whilst doing this. With practice you will then be more able to recognise and respond to the onset of tension.
You can work through as many muscle groups as you like. Don’t feel that you have to cover every muscle in your whole body. It can be helpful to stick to the same muscle groups each time you practice. That way you can get into a routine which you can easily remember. If you practice this nearly every day you will probably notice an improvement after a couple of weeks.
- Legs – point your toes and tense your muscles as if you were trying to stand up.
- Stomach – tense your stomach muscles.
- Arms – make fists and tense your muscles as if you were trying to lift something.
- Shoulders – shrug your shoulders. Lift them up towards your ears.
- Face – make a frowning expression. Squeeze your eyes shut and screw up your nose. Clench your teeth.
Finally, count down silently and slowly: 5-4-3-2-1-0, and come out of the relaxation in your own time. See if it’s possible to carry that relaxed feeling into whatever you do next.
Distraction is a good technique to fend off symptoms of anxiety and stress when they feel overwhelming. This can also give you space to deal with a situation in a more considered and positive manner. It is also helpful when you don’t have the space or time to use a more proactive approach, such as a relaxation exercise.
Distraction simply involves trying to take your mind off uncomfortable symptoms or thoughts. You can do this by trying to focus on something unrelated. Often this helps them to pass. It is still important to remember that the symptoms of anxiety are not harmful or dangerous. Even if you didn’t use distraction or relaxation techniques, nothing terrible would happen.
Ideas to help distract you from your troubling thoughts or anxiety include:
- Try to appreciate small details in your surroundings.
- Count backwards from 1000 in multiples of 7.
- Focus on your breathing, for example, how it feels to breathe in and out.
- Count things that you can see that begin with a particular letter.
- Visualise being in a pleasant, safe and comfortable environment (e.g. being on a beach).
- Listen to your favourite music. Try to pick out all the different instruments and sounds that you can hear.
As with any relaxation exercise, it may take a few minutes before you begin to feel like it’s working.
You might find it more difficult to cope if you have lots of problems that you can’t seem to get on top of. This can have a clear impact on our stress levels and mood. Struggling with unresolved problems can often make us feel worse. We can end up worrying or ruminating over our problems without finding a way to resolve them. This can make us feel even more upset, and can end up interfering with our sleep.
It can help to develop a structured way of working through a problem. Beginning to overcome some of your problems might help you to feel better. You can improve your problem solving skills by learning to apply the steps outlined here.
- “I owe £400 to my friend.”
- “I am going to miss this deadline.”
- How you might have solved similar problems in the past.
- What your friends or family would advise.
- How you would like to see yourself tackling the problem.
After this you may find that you are still unsure. Perhaps a couple of approaches seem equally good. Try to pick one to begin with. If it doesn’t work then you can always go back and try out a different one later.
- Buying a newspaper with job adverts.
- Choosing which jobs to apply for.
- Creating a CV.
- Sending out their CV.
- Buying interview clothes.
- Preparing answers to potential interview questions.
Once you have completed all the steps, you should then review the outcome. If you have successfully resolved your problem then great. If the problem still exists then don’t give up.
- Is there another solution on your list that you could try?
- Is there a different solution that you have yet to consider?
- Can you ask someone else if they have any ideas or advice?
- Can you combine any of your solutions?
It is useful to remember that not all problems are within our control. This can make it really difficult if not impossible to resolve using the steps above. Perhaps you will have to wait, or ask someone else to take action instead. In such a situation, try not to worry. Nothing can be gained from worrying about something that you have no control over.
Taking steps towards a healthy lifestyle can have a real impact on our stress levels and mood. On the other hand, unhealthy habits can put your health, or the health of others, at risk. It can be a real challenge to overcome some habits or behaviours. Focusing on the benefits of positive change may boost your motivation.
By cutting down or stopping your consumption of potentially harmful substances, you are taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle.
Now you have some ideas to inspire healthy changes to your lifestyle, why not try them out? You could ask a friend for support. If you build them into your daily routine they won’t seem like such a chore. Before long you might forget you ever did anything different!
Clear communication allows you to express yourself and get your message across to others. Careful and engaged listening also helps you to understand what other people have to say. Good communication can help you to feel better understood. You may also see an improvement in your relationships.
- Listen carefully to what others have to say. Don’t get distracted.
- Try to avoid assumptions and misunderstandings. You could do this by repeating back or paraphrasing what was said. Check whether you have understood correctly.
- Don’t jump to conclusions or try to mind-read. Ask questions if you are unsure.
- Try to understand the meaning and emotions expressed by the other person. It can be helpful to know why they are saying something to you.
- Think about what you mean to say before saying it. Also, consider what others might take from your comments.
- Try to be as clear as possible.
- Don’t immediately get defensive or fight back. Try to understand more about what the other person feels and why they have said what they said.
- Express your own emotions in an appropriate and considered way. Avoid using an angry or confrontational style. Otherwise this may cause the other person to react in fear, hurt or frustration.
There are a range of communication styles that different people use at different times. Some are more effective and appropriate than others, depending upon the situation. The three most common are passive, aggressive and assertive communication.
- You prioritise the needs of others over your own.
- You go along with what other people want to do.
- You don’t express or make known your own needs or desires.
- You may find it difficult to say no to someone.
- You fear people in authority.
- You cannot stand being criticised.
This style of communication can mean that you don’t feel listened to by others. You might feel that you are walked over. If such a pattern builds up then people may not expect to hear your opinion. They can become used to ignoring you. You may end up accepting work or favours despite feeling that they may be unfair.
- You prioritise your own needs above the needs of others.
- You’re always forcing your point through.
- You can’t stand not getting your own way.
- You ignore other people and do not listen to their opinions and expressed needs.
This can be quite a confrontational style of communication which can lead to alienation. People may feel that they do not enjoy being with you because you do not take their opinions into consideration.
- You try to balance your own needs against the needs of others.
- You take time to listen to other people’s points of view.
- Expressing a preference before negotiating in a polite and constructive fashion.
- Believing that everyone should have an opportunity to express their needs.
- You have respect for yourself and respect for other people.
Being assertive involves being aware of your own needs. You can then express these with confidence. Your attitude and approach should be calm, confident and considerate.
Being assertive is about achieving an appropriate balance between the two extremes of aggressive and passive communication styles. It can be hard to be assertive. Especially if you feel anxious or intimidated by a situation. It may help to practice particular techniques and strategies.
You may find it more difficult to communicate in certain situations. For example, at work, with a member of the opposite sex, or with those in authority. It may be helpful to rehearse or role-play different scenarios. This can help you to gain confidence in difficult situations. Here are some helpful tips on being assertive:
- Communicate succinctly.
- Maintain appropriate eye-contact.
- Be polite but firm.
- Keep a calm, relaxed tone of voice and body posture.
You may feel nervous going into a difficult situation. Practising specific strategies can help you feel more prepared. You might also find the use of relaxation techniques helpful.