A Beginner’s Guide to Managing Anger

Portrait business woman screaming at street car trafficIntense anger can overwhelm us and make us feel like we’ve lost control. We may act in ways we later regret, and those we care about may get caught in the crossfire. Often, exploring our anger teaches us a great deal about our current life experience.

While we must make time to learn from our anger, it is also important to be able to manage it appropriately when it arises. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas to consider:

1. Frustration Tolerance

Your frustration tolerance is the extent to which you can stay calm in the face of stressors that trigger—or set off—your anger. Imagine a glass filled with water. The amount of water represents your baseline frustration—the amount of anxiety, stress, or anger you walk around with on any given day. This level is different for different people, and it can change throughout the day. The empty space in the glass is your frustration tolerance—how much more water can the glass take in before spilling over and making a mess? The less water and the more space, the more room we have for dealing with stressors as the day progresses. The more water our glass contains, the more likely our emotions will get the best of us.

We can all benefit from being aware of our baseline levels so that we can manage them through self-care, relaxation techniques, or therapy. Check in with yourself to become aware of how you are feeling (physically, emotionally, mentally) a few times per day. You can use the water glass image or even rate it on a scale of one to 10. Once you know how likely you are to get triggered, the more opportunity you have to do something about it.

2. Self-Care

Self-care is anything you do to nurture yourself and may include hobbies, meditation, pampering, exercise, social activities, etc. Prioritizing self-care will lead to more satisfaction and enjoyment in your life, which will naturally lower your baseline frustration. Taking care of yourself on a regular basis increases your frustration tolerance and decreases your likelihood of being triggered.

When dealing with anger, it is important to be proactive, which means using your tools before you need them; and self-care is one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox. You can even increase the effectiveness of your self-care routine if you remind yourself that the activity is meant to nurture you and reduce your overall level of tension. You will be adding another layer of significance to your activity, which may allow you to be more open to its benefits.

3. Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are an example of self-care but emphasize regulating your physical experience to affect your mental and emotional experiences. Meditation, breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation are avenues you can use to decrease tension, increase your frustration tolerance, and develop receptivity to a state of calm. You may need guidance in these areas, so talk to a therapist, read books, seek out a yoga or meditation teacher, etc.

Use technology to your benefit, and download apps or podcasts designed to train you to relax. Relaxation techniques can be used as a regular part of your routine (self-care) or as a coping response to rising anger.

Prioritizing self-care will lead to more satisfaction and enjoyment in your life, which will naturally lower your baseline frustration. Taking care of yourself on a regular basis increases your frustration tolerance and decreases your likelihood of being triggered.

4. Coping Skills

Coping skills are the behaviors you use in the moment, as soon as you recognize that you are being triggered. They include relaxation techniques, finding distractions, journaling, talking to someone, time-outs, etc. Your ability to use coping skills effectively relies on your awareness of your anger’s progression. If you practice becoming aware of your baseline frustration and your frustration tolerance, you can become more aware of the cues related to your anger. Many people notice the physiological signs first, which can include muscular tension, rapid breathing or heartbeat, and feeling flushed or warm. Mental or emotional cues can include racing thoughts and feelings of dread or danger. The moment you catch any of these signs, you must implement a coping skill. If you wait too long, your skills may not be as effective, or they may not work at all.

You have the power to learn as many coping skills as you can to develop an arsenal of weapons to use against your destructive anger. If one doesn’t work, you have other options. You may even categorize your coping skills for use at different times during your anger’s progression. In the early stages, you may find that a few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing or thought labeling works well. In later stages, you may find that distracting yourself from a stressor or taking a time-out is more helpful.

Again, you may need guidance in developing a comprehensive list of coping skills. Don’t assume you need to come up with the list on your own; if you could do that, you might not have problems with your anger. Ask your family and friends, talk to a therapist, or do some research. You’ll find what works for you.

5. Address Underlying Issues

Even with a great deal of effort, sometimes anger still feels out of control. In this case, you might need to address the underlying causes of anger. Anger is often thought to be a secondary emotion, covering up for more uncomfortable primary emotions such as shame, sadness, or fear.

Difficult life experiences, trauma, and loss can contribute to a sense of injustice or frustration with the world. If you find that you and your relationships suffer because of your anger, please seek help. You deserve to find the peace of mind that anger prevents you from experiencing. With help from a professional, you will learn to understand what fuels your anger—and more importantly, how to finally let it go.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S, Young Adult Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Olive

    May 12th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    For me it definitely all begins and ends with being able to take care of me and my own needs. I don’t even care anymore whether that sounds selfish or not. I just know that I am the only person who is in the end going to look after me and my own needs, so I have stopped trying to first please everyone else, but have instead started focusing more on what my own needs and dreams are. I am so much happier doing this and in the end this makes me happier to then help others get to where they need to be too. But me first, I’m sorry but that has had to become my new motto.

  • Liz

    May 12th, 2015 at 11:39 AM

    Good for you! It takes a very courageous person to start working toward self-compassion. It’s a hard thing to do when you’re used to putting others before yourself. It’s not selfish, by helping yourself first, you’re better able to help others :)

  • Olive

    May 12th, 2015 at 4:39 PM

    Oh yeah, I have caught a lot of flack for being selfish and all, but I tried to reason it out that I am never going to be anything to anyone until I am something for me!

  • Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S

    May 13th, 2015 at 7:19 AM

    I agree with both of you. It’s easier to be there for others when you have been there for yourself first. Setting appropriate boundaries may seem selfish to others, but you know what’s right for you!

  • Grafton

    May 13th, 2015 at 9:22 AM

    Exercise is my way of running off my rage.

  • Tate

    May 13th, 2015 at 2:14 PM

    You must try to understand when is causing so much of this anger within you. This could be over things that for the rest of us cause us very little concern but for you it could be something from your past that you have not yet addressed and dealt with. You may think that you have buried these things but I promise that at some point they will come back to haunt you.

  • morgan

    May 14th, 2015 at 6:11 PM

    I know that I have a pretty low frustration tolerance and I have tried everything that I know to do to increase that level, but people just keep on frustrating me so what to do?

  • Mackayla

    May 15th, 2015 at 11:39 AM

    It isn’t that easy to change when you are like me a firecracker and go off just like that!

    It isn’t my best trait and i know that, but sometimes when things make me mad the reaction is just automatic and I can’t quite handle it.

  • Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S

    May 15th, 2015 at 2:20 PM

    It does feel automatic sometimes. Or like people or situations just frustrate us. That’s why I think it’s so important to be proactive in our approach. Rather than waiting to be set off, if we can learn to focus on a state of calm and relaxation long before we need it, we are less likely to get set off. And along with that, if we are aware of the types of people, behaviors, or situations that trigger our frustration/anger, we can prepare for them so that our reactions are at least better than they’d normally be. This is where therapy or any other self-reflection exercises come in; we have to know ourselves so well that we can anticipate times we might need to take a little extra care of ourselves. It’s not easy, nor does it happen over night. We need to be patient with ourselves and set reasonable goals for improvement. And remember that what works for one person might not work for everyone.

  • caitlyn

    May 18th, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    We never know just how hurtful we can allow ourselves to become when we let anger and frustration overtake all of our emotions and feelings. This isn’t anything that we should have to deal with but for some of us it is all consuming, and harmful.

  • Dee

    July 10th, 2015 at 4:23 PM

    Having feelings invalidated in early childhood leads to suppression of primary feelings and difficulty in recognising them. Managing them in a healthy way depends on recognition, but anger is often what surfaces rather than the ‘disallowed’ primary emotion. Dealing with trying to repair the damage anger does has taught me to seek better ways of self-recognition and nurture. It is much better not to have the consequences of an outburst to deal with, but instead cherish the close relationships which help healing.

  • Karen

    November 24th, 2015 at 6:24 PM

    I have learned a lot about self-care in the last couple of years. One of my coping mechanisms is to get away by myself every few months even if it’s just a day at the spa. I’ve also taken up beading which is very relaxing even when it becomes frustrating. In that case I’ve learned to put it down for a few minutes, walk away to stretch, or even just take a few deep breaths. But there is still the odd person around who can push my buttons. I’m still working on that.

  • Emily

    April 20th, 2016 at 2:42 PM

    I thought I have dealt with the underlying issue that causes me to be angry. I’ve done everything I could think of. But the anger comes in waves, it comes and goes. Sometimes, I feel compassion…. thoughts of him don’t invade my mind and I feel happy and peaceful. But then the hate comes back, and I don’t think it will ever end unless I get amnesia. I wish there was a way to completely delete all memories of that cockroach sob who got away with abuse and more. Ugh. I feel dirty because his blood is in mine. No length of time or distance can ever get me far enough away from him. I am left to accept that this world contains leeches…. and i can’t do anything about it.

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