Is anger hurting your relationships, destroying your self-respect, tarnishing your witness, and robbing your peace-of-mind? This article offers sound strategies for anger management and walking in the self-control that is yours to develop as part of the New Birth.
Get Tools in Your Tool Box and Use Them
Take a time-outMany people with serious anger issues report that rage surges from 0 to 60 in mere seconds. Once anger is peaking, rational thought is shut down. For that reason, a time-out is often the first line of defense to prevent foolish behavior and destructive words you can’t take back.
Here are some activities to help you calm down while you are in your time-out:
- Think before you speak. Sometimes it isn’t what you say, but how you say it. Spend some time considering a response to what has angered you that is respectful, preserves relationships, and is pleasing to God. It is often helpful to write it down.
- Identify possible solutions. Whatever the situation, brainstorm possible ways of solving the problem. Ask God to help you think outside your own box. In my practice, I use what I call an Emotional Incident Tracking Sheet. This is a worksheet to help clients use time-outs to process episodes of overwhelming emotion by identifying, in writing, emotions, thoughts, wants and needs, errors in judgment, and useful strategies. Use of the tracking sheets also works to chart outcomes and progress.
- Take a walk. Whether it’s in the woods, in the mountains, on the beach, downtown, or around your neighborhood, walking seems to promote deep thought where certain problems can be worked through. In addition, walking is an aerobic activity known to release mood-improving endorphins in the brain while reducing blood pressure and anxiety that may be associated with anger.
- Listen to soothing instrumental or Christ-centered music. Sit comfortably or lie down and listen to tunes that calm you and help you fix your eyes on Jesus.
- Take a bath or shower. Many people report that the sensory experience of bathing is stress-reducing and soothing, plus it provides time to think and make positive choices.
Recognize early warning signs
If you don’t build an awareness of your own personal, mental, and biological signals that you’re about to explode, you may never be able to implement a time-out or use any of the following tools because it will be too late. Pay close attention to anything you notice about how you think or feel before a meltdown occurs and keep a record of it, even if you can’t do it until after the fact. Use the information you glean to prevent future episodes.
Here are some common indicators:
- Jaw clenching or teeth grinding
- Clenched fists
- Sweating or feeling hot
- Stomach ache
- Increased heart rate
- Heavy breathing
- Face turns red
- Screaming & yelling
- Hurling insults
- Feel like hitting, throwing, or breaking things
- Mind goes blank
- Obsessing about the problem
Do something physical
Physical activity is a great distracting activity that helps release emotions and discharges energy and stress hormones induced by anger. Going to the gym, playing a sport, bike-riding, building something, or doing yard work are just a few examples to choose from.
Finding something to do to get your mind off what you’re angry about is an excellent way to give your autonomic nervous system a chance to recover. A few good ideas include working on a project, cleaning out a drawer or room, watching a movie, or engaging in a hobby, such as gardening, painting, cooking, or putting together models.
Practice relaxation techniques
Here are some popular methods espoused by many Christian counselors:
- Deep breathing. A typical exercise is to breathe in slowly through the nostrils for a count of five, exhale by mouth for a count of seven, then repeat until relaxed. Your mental focus is on the breath, which makes it difficult to think about anything else for the duration of the exercise.
- Progressive relaxation. This technique involves slowly and systematically tensing and releasing regions of the body, until full relaxation is achieved (or at least improved). Again, the focus is on the sensations of the actions, and imagining tension flowing out of the body until fully relaxed.
- Yoga or stretching. There are many resources for learning yoga postures or stretching exercises useful for relaxation and relieving mental stress.
- Imagery & thought-stopping. (Go to your Happy Place.) This tool can be used, in part, to satisfy the Biblical directive to “take every thought captive.” The idea here is that when you are being bombarded with angry thoughts, you are going to immediately stop them in favor of thinking a pleasant, pre-chosen thought. You can meditate on a particular Bible verse or truth, or you can use your imagination to visit a favorite scene, such as hiking in the mountains, flying an airplane, or going to Disneyland. Stay with it until you regain composure. The goal is to eliminate the scrambling to figure out what to do in the moment and create a conditioned response to anger that becomes easy and effective with practice.
Writing is a fabulous way to help put your thoughts and feelings into perspective. People who struggle with rage often have reactions that are disproportionate to the offenses in their lives. Taking time to journal can provide an opportunity to calm down physiologically and steer the thoughts that fuel emotions in a more positive, constructive direction.I recommend a three-pronged approach to journaling. First, vent by acknowledging your angry thoughts and feelings. See if you can tap into emotions that often are masked by anger, such as hurt and fear. You don’t want to set up camp in the quagmire of negativity, however, so secondly look up, write down, and meditate on the promises of God, particularly those that are significant to you in the moment. And finally, journal your gratitude, making a list of the good things in your life. Shifting your focus away from provocations to anger and onto God’s blessings can bring balance to your viewpoint and make your antagonist–whether person or circumstance–seem less formidable.
Get to the Root of Your Anger
When anger flares, using the tools in your toolbox is essential for successful navigation. However, at some point it’s important to figure out where the anger is coming from and why it has a tendency to be unmanageable.
Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself
Taking one’s inventory is borrowed from 12-step programs. It is a task primarily centered on reflecting over your life and making a list of people whom you have wronged in some way, then making amends where possible. Sometimes people become easily vexed because deep down they are really angry with themselves and don’t feel good inside. The inventory is intended to “clean house” so that you can get right with God, others, and yourself. A second part of taking a personal inventory is making a list of people who have harmed you and seeking to forgive them. Dealing biblically with guilt and bitterness leads to peace instead of anger.
Practice effective listening
People with short tempers and the chronically angry often have developed the habit of listening to others in a way that supports their angry feelings. Here are some listening skills that, with practice, will help you be a better, more astute listener:
- Be empathetic. That is, put yourself in the other person’s shoes, imagine how he/she might feel (or even inquire), and care about it.
- Listen for important information you may be filtering out, such as positives and alternate explanations. This may help you “reframe” a situation in a way that is more accurate and to entertain possible conclusions that don’t invoke mind-boggling anger.
- Do you even have a firm grasp on the other person’s perspective? Seek to understand someone’s point of view as well as your own, even if you don’t agree with it.
Look for the humor
People who overreact with anger, when they’re not scary, tend to look absurd. Anger may lighten up when such a person is able to step-back and laugh at their own drama.
Many people are angry because they are too passive to ask for what they want and need, so they are frustrated and persistently unfulfilled. The solution is to communicate clearly and tactfully, making respectful requests and avoiding selfish demands. Be true to yourself by saying yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no. Maintain appropriate boundaries with others so that you can be yourself.
Practice good self-care
Another way people suffer from unmet needs is by not taking appropriate care of themselves. In particular, pay attention to the following to help keep anger at bay:
- Get enough sleep
- Eat right
- Nurture relationships & be social
- Exercise regularly
- Rest and relax
- Do things you love to do
- Tend your relationship with God and keep growing spiritually
When we think or behave in ways that are wrong, inner turmoil surely follows. Effective anger management protocol requires regular self-assessment to ensure your thoughts and actions are congruent with your values.
Seek God’s help & stand on His Word
Lack of control over anger can be a stubborn problem. Strugglers frequently lament that the tools they are given by counselors are not helpful enough. I am fond of saying, “Sometimes there isn’t a pill you can take, a book you can read, or a counselor you can talk to that will fix what’s wrong.” We still need, and always will, the power of God in our lives and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.For the tools I have suggested to be effective, you need to practice and practice some more, but you also need to partner with Jehovah Rapha, our Healer. Ask God to unlock the mystery of your anger to you, and show you the path to deliverance. Read your Bible with an eye for specific revelation and hold fast to what it says.
Living in a fallen world provides many opportunities to feel angry. Anger is a God-given emotion that signals something is wrong. Sometimes that “something wrong” is caused by a misperception and sometimes there is really something to be angry about. Either way, we are instructed by God to not sin in our anger. If anger is getting the best of you, reach out to a Christian counselor today for help and support in utilizing these tools and overcoming a sinful reaction to anger.
The Best Physical Exercise for Anger Management: http://healthyliving.azcentral.com/physical-exercise-anger-management-2128.html
Anger and Exercise: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hidden-motives/201008/anger-and-exercise
Anger Warning Signs: http://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/anger-warning-signs
“Think,” courtesy of Priscilla du Preez, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Beach Run,” courtesy of Jacob Miller, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Journaling,” courtesy of Doug Robichaud, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Contemplating Scripture,” courtesy of Ben White, unsplash.com, CC0 License