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Do's and Don't's of Dealing With Anger

Dealing With Anger in a Healthy Way Is Crucial

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Updated May 27, 2014

Couple arguing on city street
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We all experience anger. Managed in healthy ways, anger can be a positive thing -- a red flag that something’s wrong, a catalyst for change, a good self-motivator. Handled poorly, anger can cause health and relationship problems. (See this article for more on the negative effects of anger.) For many, especially those who didn’t have positive role models for anger management while growing up, dealing with anger can be confusing; it’s hard to know what to do with such a powerful and potentially destructive emotion. Examining your anger and using other anger management techniques can positively impact your health, relationships and overall happiness. It's simple to do. Here are some proven anger management strategies.

Understand Your Anger

Dealing with anger is much easier when you know what you’re really angry about. Sometimes people may feel generally irritable because of stress, sleep deprivation, and other factors; more often, there’s a more specific reason for the anger. Either way, you can become more aware of what’s behind your anger if you keep an anger journal (a record of what makes you angry throughout the day) for a few weeks, then talk it over with a good friend, or even see a therapist to uncover underlying sources of anger, if you find yourself stumped. Once you are more aware of your sources of anger, you can take steps to deal with it.

Express Yourself—Constructively

Research shows that writing about anger and expressing it constructively can help reduce negative mood and even pain, particularly if the writing leads to ‘meaning-making,’ or speculation into the causes of the anger. This research, as well as other research on the benefits of journaling, supports the effectiveness of writing down your feelings and working through them on paper. The written expression of anger allows you to actively do something with your anger rather than just letting it make you feel bad.

Take Action

Your anger is telling you something. The first part of dealing with anger, as discussed, is examining it and listening to what it’s telling you about your life. The next part involves taking action. Knowing why you’re upset can go a long way, but eliminating your anger triggers and fixing problems that make you angry are equally important. You may not be able to eliminate everything in your life that causes you anger and frustration, but cutting out what you can should go a long way.

Don’t Obsess

Ruminating on your anger isn’t actually helpful. Studies show that, among other things, those who have a tendency to ruminate over situations that have made them angry in their past tend to experience higher blood pressure as a result, putting them at greater risk for organ damage and associated health problems. Trying to solve a problem is a good idea, but stewing in your anger is not.

Don’t Over-talk It

Discussing your anger is a tricky thing. Talking about your anger with a trusted friend can be an effective strategy for dealing with anger -- to a point. It can help you better understand your feelings, brainstorm problem-solving strategies, and strengthen your relationship. However, there’s also evidence that repeatedly discussing topics that make you angry with your friends can actually make you both feel worse, and increase stress hormones in your blood. If you’re dealing with anger by talking to friends about it, it’s best to talk about a situation only once, exploring solutions as well as your feelings. Most of us --especially the women -- have been involved in conversations that are basically complaint sessions or downward spirals of negative emotion; it’s best to change the subject to a happier topic before it gets that far. If you find yourself wanting to talk a lot about what is making you angry, it might be a good idea to schedule a few sessions with a therapist, who may have some effective ideas on dealing with anger.

Sources:
Byrd-Craven J, Geary DC, Rose AJ, Ponzi D. Co-ruminating increases stress hormone levels in women. Hormones and Behavior, March 2008.
Gerin W, Davidson KW, Christenfeld NJ, Goyal T, Schwartz JE. The role of angry rumination and distraction in blood pressure recovery from emotional arousal. Psychosomatic Medicine, January-February 2006.
Graham JE, Lobel M, Glass P, Lokshina I. Effects of written anger expression in chronic pain patients: making meaning from pain. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, March 6, 2008.

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