Anger can feel like it came out of nowhere, like you went from 0-60 and even you don’t know what happened. In reality, this didn’t come out of nowhere you just weren’t aware of the signs your body was giving you. Effective anger management means paying attention to your anger when it is arising in order to gain control over it. You want to be able to manage your anger in order to not reach the “out of control” feeling. This is where we make big mistakes like saying very hurtful things we don’t mean, breaking things, or even violence. (Even if there is some truth to what we say at this time, it will never be received well when we deliver it through anger. Saying it in anger will likely damage the relationship we have with who we said it to.)
Not everyone’s baseline is the same – and that’s okay. If you feel like you’re usually at a 3 or 4 that’s fine, you just need to make sure you’re paying attention to the signs that your number is increasing. We will also have different baselines in different settings. How you feel at home is likely to be different than work which might be different from the drive home. Who we are with can also have an impact on where we are on the scale. Some people, or situations, might also jump a few numbers, while others have a steady incline. What we need to do to calm ourselves will increase as the numbers increase. It will be easier to bring yourself back to baseline when you are at, say, a 5, rather than letting things pile up until you are an 8 or 9, or on the verge of exploding! When you feel yourself getting towards the top of your thermometer, remove yourself from the situation that is leading you to this reaction.
To the left is an anger thermometer with a descriptive word at each number. Before you begin to think of your own anger thermometer, do something to relax yourself. Light a candle, take a bath… whatever you usually do to cool down a bit. Take 5 square breaths: breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 4, out for 5, hold for 4 and repeat. Start by reflecting on situations that bring you to different levels of anger and give a name to each number. There are some listed
, but write whatever feels right for you. Spend a bit of time at each one and pay attention to what’s going on in your body. Where do you feel yourself becoming affected? It’s best to start at the bottom of your anger thermometer and work your way up.
Next to your thermometer, make a column and write down the situation that might lead to this reaction. If the number is your baseline, that’s fine, note that. Rather than writing something next to each one, group them off into thirds or fourths (so #1-3, #4-6, #7-10).
On different days, you’ll have more or less intense reactions to the same situation. As you work your way up the thermometer thinking of these situations, pay attention to what is happening in your body. Did your chest get tight? Your stomach? Did your head get hot? Your palms sweaty? Next to the situations, write where in your body you are feeling these different levels of anger.
Next to your body sensations column make another column and reflect on things you have done in these situations. Have they been helpful? If they haven’t, cross it out (but so you can still read it to remind yourself not to do this). If they have worked to calm you down without effecting someone else, great! Either way, write some other effective coping strategies to try in the future. Maybe belting out a song helps calm you down when you’re a 3, but you need something more at a 6.
Here are some effective anger management coping guides:
- “Out of control” – Remove yourself from the situation, do some deep breathing, and distract yourself. This could be in the form of reciting the months backwards.
- 8-10 – Distract yourself, do intense exercise, vent to a friend.
- 4-7 – Do progressive muscle relaxation, normal level of exercise, write an unsent anger letter.
- 1-3 – Self care, yoga, deep breathing, journal, practice mindfulness.
Remember this is your anger management, it’s important to make this personal to you. If you journal or write an unsent anger letter, give yourself a time limit and do something pleasurable afterwards. After doing this anger management activity, your anger level will likely be higher than usual. Use some of the calming strategies you’ve identified.
About Sarah O'Leary
Currently enrolled in the master's program for marriage and family therapy at USD, I am captivated most by the importance of relationships and emotions and their impact on our everyday lives. Both relationships and our emotions help shape who we are as a person. "Relationship" doesn't just mean partner, but rather connections of all kinds. This means everything from strangers, to friends, to partners, and most importantly, the relationship you have with yourself. Emotions are what underlies our thoughts and behaviors, they are the key to understanding ourselves.