If you're someone who reacts to certain situations with anger, you're in very good company. Anger is, after all, a normal and healthy emotion that every single human experiences.
But there are both healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with this emotion.
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"Some people experience an out-of-proportion response to a small stressor, or hold onto anger for an extended length of time to a point that is debilitating to a relationship or their own health," Stephanie Korpal, MEd, LPC, mental health therapist and owner of Marble Wellness in St. Louis, Missouri, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Here, Korpal and other experts in emotion offer their best advice for getting a handle on your anger before it gets the best of you.
1. Identify Your Triggers
One of the most effective strategies for managing your anger is being aware of the things that cause you to get angry in the first place. This is key for monitoring your wellbeing before emotions escalate.
If you can't avoid triggering situations (or people) entirely, make a plan for how to deal with them.
For example, if your uncle, who you see a few times a year on important holidays, always seems to incite your temper, prepare yourself for that fact before you spend time with him.
One healthy approach is to step away to calm down when you feel your anger rising, says Paulette Sherman, PsyD, psychologist, relationship expert and author of Dating from the Inside Out. "Once your body relaxes and you feel more centered, you can deal with the issue," she tells LIVESTRONG.com.
2. Perform a Body Scan
When you feel anger coming on, Korpal recommends doing a quick body scan to determine if certain needs are unmet. In other words, check in with yourself: Have you eaten recently? Are you dehydrated?
"If your body doesn't have what it needs to be able to handle something triggering in the environment, it can be hard to utilize emotional regulation tools and skills," she says. "Keeping our bodies properly primed to be able to work in tandem with our brains can be a wonderful gift to ourselves."
If you think you're falling short in the hydration category, she recommends monitoring how much water you're drinking for a few days to see if you need to increase it (hint: most of us do).
She also suggests monitoring your energy, focus and emotion levels throughout the day.
"Emotions can come up for a lot of reasons, but they can also be intensified due to many factors," she adds. "Knowing our whole-person needs, and regularly engaging in meeting them, can set us up for success when handling emotions."
3. Talk It Out
When you start noticing feelings of anger coming on, it can be especially helpful to talk things through with someone you find supportive, be it a friend, family member, co-worker or therapist.
"Sometimes, hearing ourselves talk out loud about what made us angry allows for the dissipation of the anger," Korpal explains. "Individuals who are good listeners and know how to effectively communicate can serve as helpful receptacles for intense emotions."
4. Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing has been found to help with myriad conditions, from high blood pressure to digestion, and it can ease anger, too.
"When you get angry, you go into 'fight or flight' mode, which is your body's natural response to being under attack," Sherman explains. "When you practice deep breathing, your nervous system is more relaxed, you slow down and get centered, and you're better able to calm your emotions."
Practicing deep breathing is fairly simple and can be performed anywhere, though a peaceful and quiet environment can be extra helpful.
To start, sit up straight and breathe in slowly through your nose and hold for five seconds. Exhale at the same speed through your mouth and repeat after five seconds.
5. Keep a Journal
Writing things down, whether it's in a journal that you keep or on a piece of paper that you ultimately toss, can be profoundly helpful in controlling your emotions, according to a January 2015 study published in Anxiety Stress Coping.
"It helps to have a safe place in which to release your emotions and write out the things you wish to say without actually attacking anyone or harming any relationships," Sherman says. "After the heat of the moment, you can review what you wrote and then decide how you choose to handle the situation in a calmer manner."
6. Get Moving
When you engage in physical activity, whether it's walking at a fast pace or doing a cardio kickboxing workout, your body releases feel-good endorphins that naturally relieve stress, tension and other negative emotions, as shown in a host of research, including one April 2019 study published in Preventive Medicine.
"The objective is to use physical activity to get the body to shift its energy in the moment to stimulate the experience of wellbeing," says Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. "When anger prevails, the body is tense, rigid and static, but exercise promotes the flexibility necessary to shift negative energy and allow wellbeing to take over the mind and body."
7. Shift Your Focus
Korpal encourages her clients to pivot their focus to a positive memory, person or place.
"The book The Secret talks about this and calls these 'secret shifters' — something accessible in your mind that is so closely associated with positivity, your whole emotional response can pivot to that emotion," she says. "You can write down five to seven of your own 'secret shifters,' view them often and, once you commit them to memory, you can easily access them during a time of emotional distress."
The activity, she explains, can serve as a way to disrupt your anger response and allow you to find a sense of calm once some of that initial emotional intensity has worn off.
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