Being angry is intense. Your body tightens up, your mind races. Emotions run wild. You can’t think straight. This chain reaction creates havoc in your life until you learn how to deal with anger.
There is nothing wrong with feeling angry. It’s how you handle it that becomes a problem.
When anger is unhealthy, it comes out as explosive rage or more quietly in indirect or sarcastic comments. These behaviors create a mountain of regret and shame that impact how we feel about ourselves. Before getting angry, it is crucial to find safe ways to express it—in ways that don’t hurt but foster clear communication, self-care and healthy boundaries.
This blog provides practical tips on how to deal with anger before it hurts you or the ones you love.
For years I stuffed my anger until I realized that stuffing it hurt as much as raging. I looked good on the outside but on the inside I felt lonely and resentful. I couldn’t share my truth because I was afraid it would hurt others.
Once I learned that anger was normal and healthy, setting boundaries got easier because healthy anger showed me my limits. Speaking up and honoring my boundaries helped me create healthier connections. Embracing my anger gave me permission to finally be myself.
Anger impacts everything; our thoughts, feelings and behavior simultaneously, which explains why it’s so challenging. You may be surprised at how a few simple behavioral changes can make you feel more confident in handling your anger.
Some of these I learned the hard way, some through working with others. Let’s get started!
20 Things You Can Do When You’re Angry
1. Avoid Using Profanity
When we’re angry, swearing can seem like a good way to vent. I admit that while swearing provides some immediate relief, it also intensified my anger. Too often it frightens others who may find the line between venting and exploding too intense.
By avoiding profanity, you can stop anger from escalating into verbal abuse. Using foul language opens the door to other hurtful behaviors like name-calling and intense blame. When this happens, the other person no longer feels safe so they shut down emotionally. Resolving issues becomes impossible.
2. Redirect the Focus Back to You
Have you ever noticed that focusing too much on others actually increases your anger? That’s because trying to change others makes you feel powerless. Consider this. Have you ever successfully controlled someone else’s behavior? Probably not! Attempts to control just create more frustration. Concentrate on something that you can control: YOU!
3. Exhale Longer than You Inhale
When angry, it’s common to feel your abdominal muscles getting tense. As a result your breathing becomes shallow. This automatically creates more stress on the body and intensifies your emotions.
Slow down your breathing. Focusing on the breath serves as a new focal point, rather than obsessing on who said what. Research shows that when you exhale longer than inhale, your body automatically begins to calm down. To start, inhale to a count of four and exhale to a count of six. This helps you regain control of your emotions and the situation.
4. Exercise Vigorously
Because anger creates tension in the body, regular exercise encourages the body to vent those feelings safely. In a moment of anger, even taking a short, brisk walk can help to relieve tension. Anger expressed physically doesn’t get trapped in the body as stress.
5. Catch Negative Thoughts
Anger starts in the mind. Whether it’s a random thought or a negative assumption, both happen in seconds. You cannot control your first thought, but you can control the second one. Catch those negative thoughts, and you’re halfway there!
Managing anger without identifying the thoughts that fuel it doesn’t work. Once you identify those thoughts, ask yourself, is this thought even true?
Consider the acronym FEAR, which stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. What you fear rarely actually happens. So, identifying those random thoughts and assumptions creates a much needed stopping point. You have a choice to see them for the emotional illusions that they are.
6. Reach Out for Support
It’s not easy to admit you’re angry, but denying those feelings can lead to depression, isolation and even addiction. Getting support and being heard deflates the anger and makes you feel more connected. Having a group of friends to support you makes any crisis easier to handle because you can reason things out before responding.
7. Draw Your Feelings
When anger doesn’t make logical sense the tendency is to ignore it. You think that you shouldn’t be angry. But you are and that’s okay. Pick up a marker or crayon and draw whatever comes to mind without judging how you feel or what it looks like. Often this provides a safe space to honor your feelings. This is a great tool for bypassing the rational mind.
8. Examine Beliefs that Don’t Work
As a child, you learned what anger looked like, whether you saw rage, sarcasm, or the silent treatment. All of these memories influenced how you expressed anger. Discovering your family’s beliefs will help you recognize which ones are still impacting you today. As an adult, you may not realize that you’re still operating from old beliefs that no longer serve you.
Here are some common beliefs around anger:
- Anger is bad and should be avoided.
- Anger hurts people so I should just be nice.
- It doesn’t matter how I feel; nothing will change anyway.
- I must swallow my feelings in order to be liked.
- People don’t care about my feelings.
- People can’t be trusted with my feelings.
- Women and children shouldn’t be angry.
All of these beliefs hold anger back and create stress and resentment. Be wiling to confront these underlying beliefs so you can decide what works best for you now.
9. Tense and Relax Your Muscles
Pay attention to how your body feels when you’re angry. When angry, it’s common to feel your abdominal muscles getting tense. As a result your breathing becomes shallow. This automatically creates more stress on the
body and intensifies emotions.
Slow down your breathing. Focusing on the breathe serves as a new focal point, rather than obsessing on who said what. Research shows that when you exhale longer than inhale, your body automatically begins to calm down. Inhale to a count of four and exhale to a count of six helps you regain control of your emotions and the situation.
10. Find the Emotion Underneath
Anger is considered a secondary emotion. Underneath anger lies sadness or fear (considered primary emotions). When you cover up these feelings with anger, you feel less vulnerable. But in the long run, you need to find out what is triggering the anger. Only when you understand how anger starts, can you begin to tame it.
You’ve got to feel it to heal it.
11. Take a Silent Walk in Nature
Getting out in the fresh air and feeling the sun on your face can redirect your attention from a tense situation. Instead of blasting those ear buds (though great music can work well too), try spending some time in silence. Nature has a way of emptying the mind as you focus on the sights and sounds around you.
12. Let Yourself Have a Good Cry
Did you know that crying actually releases tension? It’s a physical reaction called a cortisol dump. When you cry the stress hormone, cortisol, gets released which helps the body relax and comes back into balance naturally.
13. Admit When You’re Feeling Hurt
It’s tempting to brush off a rude comment, but that’s a mistake. Admitting how you feel
prevents anger from leaking out in indirect, hurtful comments later. When hurt feelings get denied, they build up and eventually turn into unhealthy anger.
14. Use Time-outs to Avoid Outbursts
When you’re angry, trying to talk it out often leads to defensiveness and misunderstandings.
When you stay in an argument too long, you hurt the
ones you love.
Time-out creates the space away needed so that you can calm down. Avoid anything that increases your stress during the time out. Instead, take a walk to de-escalate the situation.
15. Don’t Drink, Drive or Do Drugs
Avoid activities that don’t let you relax. Driving takes mental effort and concentration that gets impaired when you’re angry. Incidents of road rage happen because you’re flooded with stress hormones that cause you to seek revenge rather than think rationally.
Using substances may seem like a good way to take the edge off but using increases your chances of having escalated arguments that can lead to violence. Emotions are much harder to control when intoxicated.
16. Check Out Assumptions
Do you ever find yourself getting angry over the little things? For instance, your partner has an angry tone and you assume that you did something wrong. That assumption creates your upset. Your partner’s upset could have nothing to do with you. When you realize that you’re taking something personally, check it out first. Be careful not to get caught up
in assumptions rather than understanding what’s happening now.
17. Practice Meditation
Mediation is not about stopping thoughts. Instead, meditation welcomes your thoughts without judging them. Meditation is not necessarily about sitting quietly because that isn’t for everyone! If sitting still is challenging, try a walking mediation, listen to soothing music, or even sit by a warm fire and focus on the flames. Anything can be a focal point.
18. Focus on the Present Moment
Remember that venting can help, but too much of a good thing only inflames the anger. Bring your focus back to what’s happening now. Avoid fixating on the past or the future. Look around and just breathe. Write a gratitude list. Train your brain to concentrate on the present.
19. Write in a Journal
Writing provides a healthy outlet for feelings that you don’t want to share with anyone. On paper, you can fully express yourself without having to censor your feelings. This works particularly well when you aren’t comfortable speaking them out loud.
20. Don’t Get too Hungry, Stressed or Tired
Alcoholics Anonymous uses HALT, a wonderful acronym that stands as a reminder to not get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Have you ever snapped at someone because you were hungry or tired? When your blood sugar drops it causes irritability and confusion. Logic goes out the window as the body tries to regulate itself by releasing adrenaline. This affects mood and makes it harder to stay calm.
Anger is not as easy emotion to tame. Once I learned how to deal with anger and express it assertively, my communication drastically improved. I was no longer hiding my emotions but able to express how I felt without blame. It felt empowering to let my anger out without feeling guilty or worrying about what others think. Healthy anger invites you to make positive changes within yourself and in your relationships. That’s the kind of power that truly transforms you!
Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist in San Jose California. She works with individuals, couples and offers online courses. She specializes in anger management and healing codependent relationships. She’s a therapist who “walks her talk” and supports others in transforming habits that hurt. She writes a blog on how to build self-esteem, set healthy boundaries and build relationships without sacrificing yourself. It’s the power of accountability and unconditional support that helps you move forward, let go of the past and truly heal. Visit her website to get her free 5 Day Email Course “Catching Your Anger Before It Hurts”.