Written by Valiant Living Recovery on Thursday, June 20th, 2019
Anger is sometimes a good thing. When we see someone do something unfair or unethical, anger is the healthy response. However, anger can easily become toxic. If you always get angry at others, you end up hurting others and alienating yourself. You may start to carry around your anger in the form of resentments, which the Big Book of AA identifies as one of the primary drivers of addiction. Bottling your anger in this way tends to cause feelings of helplessness and despair and can even make you sick by increasing your stress. Or you may turn your anger inwards toward yourself, which is how Freud defined depression. Losing your temper, holding onto resentments, or turning inward are not healthy ways to deal with anger, especially for anyone recovering from addiction. However, anger is a normal and inevitable part of life, so how do you deal with anger in a more constructive way?
When you notice you’re becoming angry, the first thing to do is pause. This simple act opens up a whole range of possibilities. Often, anger makes you feel like you have to do something–yell, break things, hit someone, or some other momentarily satisfying but ultimately destructive action. When people are in the grip of anger, they often feel like they have no choice but to act on it. That’s not true at all. Not only do you have a choice in how to react, but you also have a choice on whether to become angry. However, that takes a little more work. At the beginning, it’s enough to recognize you’re angry and decide you’re not going to do anything until you can act in a more measured way. This will at least prevent you from making things worse.
To get a little more space from whatever has made you angry, take some deep breaths. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to calm yourself down. When you’re angry, you’re in fight-or-flight mode, which means your sympathetic nervous system is activated. Taking a few slow deep breaths stimulates your vagus nerve, which activates your countervailing parasympathetic nervous system. This reduces your heart rate and blood pressure, making you feel calmer. Try breathing in for a count of four, then breathing out for a count of eight. Not only will this activate your parasympathetic nervous system, but the counting and focus on your breath will momentarily divert your attention from whatever is making you angry. You may not exactly feel calm after a few slow, deep breaths, but you will certainly feel calmer.
The central insight of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is that it’s not events themselves that cause our emotional reactions, but rather our thoughts about events. Anger is no exception. For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic, you may be startled or alarmed, but you don’t necessarily have to be angry. You might realize the person couldn’t have seen you or that she was trying to avoid an accident or so on, in which case, your momentary fear dissipates and you go on your way. However, you could also decide to take it personally, think the person should have been more careful, was a jerk, and so on, in which case you might be thinking about the incident the rest of the day, getting angrier and angrier. If you pay attention to you assumptions and have the presence of mind to question them–perhaps after some deep breaths–you can often let go of anger very quickly.
Most of the time, being angry in itself is not very productive. Sometimes it can spur you to take action, after which point, its purpose is served. If anger has alerted you to some problem, the easiest way to get rid of that anger is to solve the problem. Since you typically can’t think very clearly when you’re angry, it’s useful to calm down first. Then, start thinking of ways you might solve the problem. Come up with a list, pick a solution that looks good and get started. It doesn’t have to be a perfect solution; it just has to be better than sitting there ruminating.
Getting some exercise is another great way to deal with anger. Many studies have shown that exercise reduces stress and anxiety and boosts mood by releasing endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. Not only does exercise calm you down, but it sharpens your mind too. It increases blood flow to the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for emotional regulation, working memory, attention, planning, and self-control. Regular exercise can work as a buffer against things that might normally set you off. Having lower levels of stress and anxiety makes you more patient and being able to think more clearly helps you solve problems.
One of the most important ways to manage anger is by communicating. Most of the time, when we’re angry, we’re angry at someone else, and occasionally with ourselves. It’s easy to speak out of anger or bang out an angry response on email, text, or social media, but that usually just escalates the situation. Typically, anger is the result of miscommunication. This is especially true of text communications, where crucial context is lacking and our intentions are easily misinterpreted. The solution is better communication. Let someone know that something she said or did made you angry. Don’t accuse her or anything; just say what she did and how it made you feel. Be patient and listen to what she says. Most of the time, problems can be resolved relatively easily and the episode may even strengthen your relationship.
Offering a full range of recovery and mental health services, Valiant Living offers “Expanded Recovery” to enrich our clients’ lives in mind, body, and spirit. Through evidence-based therapy options and the endless adventure of Colorado, Valiant fosters connection, encouraging clients to get connected to themselves, their peers, their families, and their higher power. With the power of recovery, clients are restored to full health and experience life-changing healing. Call us today for more information: 303-536-5463