Six top tips for dealing with anger

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Furious? Losing it? About to do something you regret? Take a breath, and think about these tips...

1. Go slo-mo

You’re on icy roads doing 200km/hour.

There’s a flying sabre-toothed tiger with a chainsaw swooping down on you.

Your heart rate jumps… adrenaline surges through your body… everything is telling you to act fast and do whatever it takes to ward off the danger.

Sure, this is what most of us do in high-pressure emergency situations, but definitely not the mode you want to be in when you’re dealing with people (…or flying tigers with chainsaws).

It’s also the worst way to be thinking when you’re in an argument or dealing with something difficult, and all you want to do is lose it and let off steam. Before you blow up, or hit send on that message, cool off, give it some time... then obviously check the rear-view mirror for flying tigers.

Characters from Modern Family freaking out while driving a car.

2. Step out of it

The human body has a physical reaction to anger – it sends out early warning signs that you might be about to act like a di(khead.

Indicators include: feeling hot, getting the sweats, tightness in the neck, involuntary clenching of fists, nausea and/or dizziness – your system wants to get you ready for flight or fight – and both of those might be a mistake.

So be aware of your personal anger-indicators, then take a step or two out of the situation that’s causing them, breathe slowly and stay out until all systems are back to normal. Congratulations, you just avoided acting like a di(khead!

Learning to manage our emotions is a lifelong skill – if you ever regret the way you’ve behaved, use this as motivation to be a better you next time – and ask for help if you’re not sure how to do this on your own.

3. Bounce it off a mate

Tunnel-vision = bad. Outside perspective = good.

All right, it’s not rocket-science, but it works. When thoughts or emotions get stuck in your head, and you can't work them out, try unloading onto a mate that you know gives good advice in high-pressure situations, i.e. won’t just ‘fan the flames’ of the situation.

Just saying it out loud can give you clarity, and running it by people you trust gives you perspective. The annoying thing about this tip is that you kind of have to listen to what other people are telling you! But seriously, it's worth it.

4. We can't choose our emotions, but we can choose our actions

It’s ok to be angry or upset ( emotions). It’s not ok to be abusive or violent (actions). Tantrums are for toddlers – most of us experience plenty of different emotions each day – but it's how we deal with them that counts. The way you react to strong emotions will be the difference between you being a high-performance vehicle or an overheating old bomb.

GIF of character from the movie InsideOut angry and exploding fire out of his head

5. Everybody say ‘I'! (instead of 'You')

Handy little trick: when you tell someone, ‘You are a...’ they usually get defensive, and their first reaction is ‘Oh no I'm NOT!’

But say, ‘When you do… X – it makes me feel… X’ and nobody can really argue with that. Only you get to say what you feel. It works because it makes people more likely to hear what you have to say.

So, next time you’re about to tell someone they’re annoying or crap, rethink your words and make it about you. For example, ‘I don’t like it when you say stuff like that about me…’

6. Choose your battles

The point of an argument is to find the best possible solution, not to ‘win’ for the sake of it. Next time you find yourself arguing, double-check you’re doing it for the right reasons, and remember...

Good communication involves:

  • negotiating and cooperating (everyone wins), not manipulating and competing (someone has to lose)
  • actually listening to the other person (not cutting them off, talking over them or putting them down)
  • staying calm (not yelling to shut people down or intimidate them)
  • working through stuff (not giving up because it’s a difficult topic)

If you're losing it or want more help staying on the right side of the line contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). Alternatively, contact Headspace, a national youth mental health service. Chat online or call them on 1800 650 890.

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