Anger is a signal to us that we need to pay attention. It’s like pain. Without it, we may not notice we have an injury. Anger is telling us to stop and assess otherwise we may hurt ourselves or someone else.
Letting ourselves be angry and knowing why it’s happening more frequently are both important.
Constant irritability and anger are a sign that our arousal/activation level in our nervous system is too high recently. This may be due to a stressor like a family illness, relationship stress, job stress, etc.
We know now that the old advice of “getting anger out” by punching something or yelling doesn’t work. It makes us more angry and out of control. Instead, we need to feel the anger but contain it to a level that is under 5 (on a scale of 0-10). We can do this by following 3 steps:
(1) The first step to managing anger is to name and normalize it.
“I’m angry. I’m human. Sometimes humans get angry. I’m normal.”
(2) The next step is to notice how it’s affecting your body and behaviour.
“I can’t get dinner on the table because I’m so consumed with anger. My body is so tense. I’m yelling at the my kids.”
When we acknowledge our anger and describe what is happening to us it automatically becomes more manageable.
(3) The final step is to use skills to contain the anger. This might be doing something grounding like sitting with our back supported and doing some diaphragm breathing.
When our arousal level has regulated we may then be able to think clearly and understand the softer feelings beneath the anger.
If these steps are not working you may need help noticing earlier on when you are starting to feel angry and apply skills as soon as you notice.
If anger is ruling your thoughts and behaviour or others are saying it’s becoming a real problem it may be that you have not settled your nervous system. You might want to get some assistance with it by coming into a counselling session. There are often good reasons why your go-to reaction has always been anger. But your brain may need some help remembering that the present is not the past and that you old go-to isn’t helping you as much anymore.
Brantbjerb, MH., & Stepath, S. (2007). The body as container of instincts, emotions and feelings. Copenhagen: Moaiku Bodynamic.
Najavits, L.M. (2002). Seeking Safety: A treatment manual for PTSD and substance abuse. Guilford.
Most of this article was originally published on CounsellingBC.com on April 16, 2016.