Here’s how to harness your rage – and maybe even make it work to your advantage.
1. You are risking your health
Life’s annoyances can affect your wellbeing if they go unaddressed. Studies have found that people who rate high on tests for anger are at an increased risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. (If you are struggling, try these 17 steps to get high blood pressure under control.)
2. Why so angry?
To process anger in a healthy way, Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor at George Mason University in Virginia, recommends that you attempt to understand why you feel upset. Without pinpointing why you’re angry, he says, “you can’t get a foothold to figure out what your body is mobilising to do.”
3. Anger as motivator
When harnessed properly, anger can be a motivator. Frustration can drive us to choose a novel path while problem solving, or to become focused and committed – taking up a new political cause, for example.
Frustration may also be useful in negotiations. Anger can signal that you are done conceding, says Russell Cropanzano, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. But watch how you express it – raising your voice during a debate may be helpful, but the same tactic could potentially undermine collaborative work. Try these 13 negotiating tips to help you get the best outcome.
5. Vexation has its limits
Kashdan recommends thinking of anger as a vehicle speedometer, where 10 km/h is irritation and 100 km/h is blind rage. Speed limits are a measure of effectiveness – momentary annoyance during a negotiation might be useful, but rage seldom is. And speaking of rage, how would you react in these 7 real-world scenarios designed to stretch your patience?
6. Don't overuse it
If you use anger as a tool too often, people will learn to avoid you. While others may offer small amounts of time and effort to keep your temper from erupting, you’ll miss out on their best contributions.
7. Make anger the last step
If you get into a disagreement with someone, pause for a moment and try to understand that person’s point of view, then look for a mutually beneficial solution. “Once you become angry,” Cropanzano points out, “your thinking gets too narrow.”
8. Deep breaths
To bring anger down a notch or two, the American Psychological Association recommends practising deep breathing. Focus on inhaling and exhaling, and picture your breath travelling to your diaphragm. But whatever you do, don’t be tempted to punch a pillow.
9. Music soothes
Create a playlist of your favourite music to help you relax in difficult situations. Kashdan says different genres work for different people. He suggests listening when you feel agitated in order to curb anger. Here are some more ideas that may help you to relax.
10. Up your game
Keep disagreements from turning into fights by improving your communication skills. Avoid cutting others off or using accusatory adverbs such as ‘always’ and ‘never’.
11. Heed the warning signs
Unhealthy anger – the inability to cool down when upset – can be a symptom of mental health disorders such as depression, says Dr Darin Dougherty of the Harvard Medical School. Speak to your doctor if this feels familiar; medication and cognitive behavioural therapy may help.
12. Cut yourself some slack
Some forms of anger – the ‘fight’ side of the fight-or-flight coin – are associated with fear and are hardwired into the brain. When you or a loved one is in apparent danger, it’s normal to lash out. During these situations, says Cropanzano, apologise if necessary and forgive yourself for the outburst.
13. Find the funny
After anger runs its course, let go of it. Cropanzano offers three steps for decompressing after you’ve been hurt: make sense of the wrongdoing by discussing it with a loved one or a therapist; avoid holding onto resentment or bitterness after you’ve processed the issue; and, finally, move forward – find humour in the situation or leave the environment if it’s become toxic.