Life can be maddening. The car breaks down while you are in the middle of nowhere, you get passed up for a big job promotion, you burn Thanksgiving dinner, or you arrive home to a leaking roof. Anger is a healthy, universal emotion that arises from a broad array of triggers and causes. Some people have the personality and disposition to calmly manage frustration and anger, while others are more reactive. Certain individuals have a variety of coping skills to effectively manage anger, while others seem to lack the necessary skills. When coping skills are ineffective, anger can quickly spiral out of control and cause serious problems in a person’s everyday functioning.
Coping skills are techniques that an individual uses to mitigate stress, anger, and frustration. Coping skills are essential to a person’s resilience and emotional and physical well being. Coping mechanisms allow a person to accept misfortune and disappointment without shutting down emotionally. Coping techniques help a person to manage difficult feelings without becoming aggressive or belligerent.
There are a variety of coping skills to help a person to manage anger. Deep breathing, counting to ten, and listening to calm music can release anger through methods of relaxation. Yoga, tai chi, mindfulness, and guided imagery are some other approaches to reduce tension and to promote calm. These types of coping mechanisms promote clear thinking to reduce unwise and impulsive knee-jerk reactions.
Exercise and physical activity is another useful anger management technique. Exercising allows a person to channel anger in a healthy and productive way. Exercising releases endorphins, or hormones that bring about feelings of tranquility and happiness. There are many different forms of exercise, including bike riding, running, playing basketball, or taking a Zumba class. Boxing, using a punching bag, or even punching a pillow can help a person to channel anger and aggression in healthy ways.
Some people cope with anger by talking about it with trusted family members and friends. Talking through anger allows one to dispel irrational thoughts, to receive feedback and advice, and to gain support. If anger is directed towards somebody in particular, it can be helpful to work through conflict by talking to that person in an assertive, non-confrontational manner. If a person is too angry to speak assertively, taking a break to calm down before engaging in conversation is advisable.
If talking to somebody is uncomfortable or too difficult, a person can alternatively cope via writing and journaling. Writing allows an individual to work through angry thoughts and feelings by getting them onto paper, thus reducing their power. Other creative coping outlets can include drawing, painting, sculpting, dancing, or playing an instrument. These coping techniques distract a person from their anger, thus giving them time to calm down.
Changing thoughts, also called cognitive restructuring, is another helpful anger reduction technique. Changing negative, irrational thoughts cause changes in feelings and behaviors. If an individual can interchange negative thoughts with positive ones, improved feelings and behaviors will result.
Sometimes anger is just too powerful and destructive for one person to handle, at which point professional intervention can become necessary. In these instances, seeking help from a licensed mental health practitioner is recommended. Professional counseling allows a person to discuss complex feelings, to process resentment and fury, and to learn anger management techniques in a safe, trusting, and therapeutic environment.
Life rarely turns out the way that we plan and things always happen differently than we expect. Disappointments and frustration at home, work, and with loved ones is inevitable, as is angry reactions and responses. Anger is a natural human emotion that will always be present in some way or another. It is how we deal with this anger that really counts. Developing and consistently utilizing coping mechanisms is the most effective way for us to handle all of life’s frustrations and disappointments.
Tracy Smith is a Licensed Professional Counselor and employed as a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in the mental health field and has worked in a wide array of settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy has worked with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the resistant adolescent population. Tracy enjoys facilitating groups, coming up with creative interventions, and is interested in creative art therapies, such as sand tray, play therapy, and psychodrama.