Living with Chronic Pain
Tips for Working Through Anger
Anger is a natural and healthy emotion; however, uncontrolled anger can negatively impact health and relationships. Anger typically occurs due to being threatened or provoked, feeling hurt, or as a defense mechanism. It is also one of the most prominent emotions when dealing with a chronic pain condition. If anger spirals out of control, a person is likely to lash out and say or do things they later regret.
The inability to express anger healthily leads to outbursts of aggression, poor communication, and other maladaptive behaviors. Unhinged anger can result in hitting, kicking, yelling, or throwing objects, but regulating anger can create constructive conversations, initiate changes, and provide solutions.
Tips to work through anger
Determining how to keep anger from spiraling out of control is an important factor in controlling it. Certain techniques can be utilized to help you stay centered and calm during frustrating situations. You may need to try several tips to find the one that works best for you.
Take a break
Remove yourself from a frustrating situation to process the circumstance and calm down. This can be accomplished by going into a separate room, counting to ten, or asking a person to pause the conversation. While taking a break from a frustrating conversation is beneficial, stonewalling (purposely avoiding hard conversations) should be avoided. This results in unresolved and additional issues.
Breathing usually becomes rapid and shallow when experiencing anger. Practicing different breathing exercises can help to re-regulate the body’s nervous system and instill a feeling of calmness. Breathing from the stomach, rather than the chest, paired with taking slow, deep breaths, while inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, can help you feel calmer.
Guided imagery, also known as visualization, is used to achieve a focused and relaxed state. Based on the principle that the mind and body are inherently connected, guided imagery utilizes all of a person’s senses to redirect the individual’s thoughts away from anger and into a calmer state of mind. One option is to imagine yourself in a calm, happy place.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) involves tensing or tightening one muscle group at a time and then relaxing the muscle group. As each group of muscles relaxes, the mind should focus on the relaxation sensation. This can help to release tension that often results from anger.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves using certain skills (e.g., guided imagery, meditation, journaling, breathing exercises, etc.) to focus on the present and observe inner thoughts and feelings without judgment. It can help regulate emotions, such as anger. Mindfulness helps you check facts before making assumptions.
Anger frequently makes communicating difficult. Practicing various communication skills prior to becoming angry is beneficial. Communication tips and skills to help you communicate clearly and effectively when angry include the following:
- Use “I” statements
People tend to focus on what they believe is wrong. Statements, such as “You are always late,” or “You never think about me,” are negative, blaming statements. By using an “I” statement, your feelings are focused around the situation. Positive examples of “I” statements include “I feel disrespected when I am not updated on your arrival time” or “I get upset when you double-book our plans.”
- Active listening
Communication is not just about talking, it also involves listening to the other person. Active listening provides validation and prevents you from making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. It allows you to understand the emotions and motivations of the other party, resulting in easier managed anger.
- Stick to the facts
During arguments, it is easy to make evaluations and judgments, such as “You just want to make me mad.” It is important to focus on what is undeniably true. Focus on the facts to eliminate the possibility of jumping to conclusions.
- Assertive communication
Assertive communication is often conflated with aggressive communication. Aggressive communication involves talking over others; however, assertive communication includes others in the conversation, while recognizing their needs. Anger can cause you to use aggressive or passive-aggressive communication styles, which causes more problems. Assertive communication helps solve problems by including everyone involved.
- Avoid over-generalizations
When angry, it is easy to over-generalize with statements, such as “You never remember our anniversary.” Words relating to “always,” “never,” “everyone” and “nobody,” are unrealistic and inflate the issue.
Empathy is key when experiencing anger. By stepping into the shoes of the other person, you can better understand their point of view, making communication easier.
Sometimes, anger needs to be released before you have a conversation or find a solution. In some cases, there may not be a good solution, leaving you with no constructive steps to take. If this occurs, it is a good idea to release anger through healthy outlets. Tips to release anger include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Screaming (in private)
Yelling or screaming can be a good way to release pent-up rage, but only when not directed at another person. It should be done in a private setting where others will not be startled. If this is not possible, try screaming into a pillow to help muffle the sound.
Art is a great way to express emotions. Drawing a representation of your anger or depicting the situation can be a healthy release. You may also find it helpful to destroy the art when finished.
- Journaling or writing
Journaling is a healthy coping mechanism to release feelings of anger. You can journal about the situation, your emotions, or list solutions to the problem. Creative writing also allows you to express anger through your words. Whether a depiction of the event or a work of fiction, this gives you the opportunity to process what has angered you.
- Physical activity
Another outlet for anger is physical activity. This includes anything within your range of ability, such as running, walking, yoga, etc.
Listening to angry music allows you to channel energy into another form of expression. This is helpful even if the subject of the song doesn’t necessarily line up with the situation you are dealing with. Soothing music can also help calm the mind.
While the issue will eventually need to be addressed, venting to a third party can help you think clearer. Make sure the person is okay with lending an ear. Venting to involve another person or to sway them should be avoided.
Anger can be difficult to manage, especially alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional for more information or support regarding anger management.
Additional sources: Verywell Mind, DBT tools, Eddins Counseling Group, Mental Health America, Psychology Today, oureverydaylife, Verywell Mind, PsychCentral, BetterHelp, Welldoing.org, and MentalHelp.net