Expressing Anger – The Healthy Way

As we gain a better understanding of anger, we now know more about its effects on us (and others), the warning signs and the myths surrounding it. In this blog series we’ve also explored the importance of creating space and getting away from the ‘drama epicentre’, as well as how to learn helpful relaxation techniques and making cognitive changes.

We also know that anger isn’t a bad thing, as long as we can recognize when it’s happening, assess it, and then find healthy ways to express it or manage it. This is how we increase our emotional intelligence – by going from “I’m angry…so everybody better look out!” to “I’m angry; I need to process this”.

Communication is key

The first rule of anger is: Preserve relationships whenever possible. Sometimes we lash out at those who matter most to us, thinking it’s safe to do so. However, we chip away at the respect and trust that others have in us when we rant and rave. We’re entitled to our feelings, but we aren’t entitled to act out with aggression or cruelty. These communication tips are a good starting point for the next time we’re angry with someone, or even just angry ‘around’ someone:

  1. Take a time-out and refresh, and even write down what the issues and feelings are all about.
  2. Stay calm; shouting or swearing just make matters worse and reduce our credibility and good reputation.
  3. Stick to the topic – avoid opening the floodgates and bringing up every wrong ever done.
  4. Plan to listen – there are two sided to everything, and always more information to be gained.
  5. Focus on behaviours, feelings and resolutions, instead of the perceived faults of the other person.

Healthy outlets

Remember that scene in Footloose, when Kevin Bacon’s character Ren was so angry, he went to the warehouse and…danced? As corny as it may seem now, it’s a perfect example of a healthy outlet for anger. Big emotions like anger and hurt have the potential to create great things, but only when harnessed the right way. When we take all that rage, resentment, injured pride, fear and hurt and do something positive with it, we not only reduce those negative feelings, but we grow as individuals.

There are healthy ways to help us explore, vent and relieve many of the negative aspects of anger so that we regain control and hopefully even learn from the experience. Here are a handful of healthy ways (beyond dancing – but still a great option!) that will help dissipate anger while building us up:

  1. Tap into that creative/artistic side. Paint, build, draw, write, sing, play (or learn) an instrument.
  2. Connect with nature. Go for a hike, plant a garden or tree, stargaze, birdwatch…just get outdoors.
  3. Get physical. Get that heart rate up in a good way and dive in to any activity or sport you love.
  4. Give back to the community. Volunteering takes our minds off our own problems and helps us see our value and worth.
  5. Be with happy people, watch happy shows, and look at the lighter side of life more often.
  6. Practice self care. Reducing stressors, learning to say no, and taking care of ourselves through healthy living, healthy eating, and taking time to pamper ourselves goes a long way in managing emotions.

Anger in children

As parents, dealing with our kids’ anger can be a challenge. We don’t want to tell them to hide or deny their feelings, but we also can’t stand by when they are out of control. My daughter is 5 years old and is at the stage where she has frequent meltdowns. My wife and I see our roles as mediators to teach her emotional regulation so that as she grows up, she’ll know how to understand and manage her anger. We can’t always make excuses for their outbursts, even when we understand where they’re coming from. We all get tired, disappointed, hurt and angry throughout our lives, and it’s our job as parents to help our children learn to understand, process, and manage their big emotions so they can function successfully in society.

When to talk to the pros

Professional help should most definitely be sought when anger can’t be resolved. Whether it’s one issue that just won’t go away, or a lifetime of cleaning up messes made as a result of a “bad temper”, there are counsellors and therapists who can make a difference. We’re often ashamed to seek help, but we shouldn’t be; prolonged anger can have very serious negative consequences. There are successful strategies that have proven to be life-changing for people with anger issues, and whether it involves group therapy, individual counselling, art therapy, or other techniques, the outcomes are usually quite positive. The sooner we can learn anger management and better ways of expressing this emotion, the better for us and those around us.

“You can get angry, you can get even, or you can get ahead.” – Jeffrey Fry