By Angie Blandford, B. Sc., MSW
In the 20th century, Dr. Paul Ekman identified six basic emotions:
In Dr. Ekman’s book, Emotions in the Human Face: Guidelines for Research and an Integration of Findings (1972), he states that these emotions are universal, hardwired, automatic and can trigger different behaviours. Basically, everyone experiences anger, and, at times, it’s completely appropriate to feel angry. Unfortunately, anger is an emotion that can get us into trouble if it’s out of proportion to the situation, uncontrolled or dysfunctional (ABCT, 2019).
Have you ever felt so intensely angry that you said something you didn’t mean, or did something you later regretted? We’ve all been there. In the moment, it might not feel like we have any control over our reactions. But, with some tips and tricks (and practice!), we absolutely do.
Learning to Manage Anger
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based model of psychotherapy based on the relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Therapists working from this model help people learn skills and strategies to interrupt the cycle of anger.
Interrupting the Cycle
Want to work on interrupting your anger? Try these steps:
- Recognize your anger early. Take notice of how you feel in your body when you’re angry. Some common early-warning signs include feeling hot, physical tension, an increased heart rate, and raising your voice.
- Acknowledge the anger. Mindfulness can be a helpful buffer between the feeling of anger and your reaction to it. When you start to notice warning signs or angry thoughts, say them silently to yourself. For example, “I’m noticing that my voice is raised.” This can help bring your anger down a notch, slow your reactions, and decrease the anger’s duration.
- Rate the intensity of your anger. Once you notice you’re feeling angry, ask yourself how angry you are. For example, on a scale from one to 10, would you rate your anger as a 5/10? Or, is it an 8/10? It can be easier to know what to do to manage the anger once you know how intense your anger is.
- Take a time out. Temporarily leave the situation that is making you angry. For example, if you’re arguing with someone, let them know that you need to take a break but will come back to the conversation. If you’re 5/10 angry, you might want to take a few minutes. If you’re 8/10 angry, you might want to take a bit longer.
- Breathe deeply. For a few moments, just breathe. It can be helpful to count your breaths—inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds. Repeat.
- Take a few moments to consider the consequences. What might the positive results be if you proceed with an angry reaction? Perhaps you’ll feel relieved or heard. What might the negative results be if you proceed with an angry reaction? Perhaps you’ll say hurtful things and feel regret. By considering the consequences before you act on your anger, you can make an informed choice about how to react.
- Express your anger in a helpful way. After decreasing the intensity of your anger, express your frustration without being confrontational.
Practicing these strategies can help us manage and express our anger in a way that’s appropriate for the situation and leads to better communication.
Looking for more? We offer individual anger management counselling. Call us at 705-726-2503 or visit cfssc.ca to get started.
You can also purchase a copy of the CBT-based workbook Mind over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think (2nd ed) by Dennis Greenberger, PhD and Christine Padesky, PhD at your local bookstore.