How to Manage Anger

Many of us living during this pandemic are experiencing a very normal increase in stress and anxiety. As a result, we are likely also experiencing larger and more frequent experiences of anger that may be coming out in ways we do not expect or feel good about. Anger is an all too often misunderstood emotion. In fact, anger is only dysfunctional when directed inappropriately and uncontrollably. At its core, anger is a survival mechanism, our fight response, put in place to protect ourselves, family, values, and vulnerabilities. Think of it as the bodyguard that comes out anytime a threat is detected or harm is a possibility. This is why oftentimes emotions that make us feel vulnerable – more apt to experience hurt, like stress or fear trigger our anger response.

Anger can be helpful in that it makes us feel strong, motivated, and able to stand up for ourselves. It also assists us in getting through very difficult times until it is safe to let our guard down and process the underlying triggered emotions. However, it can also be intoxicating and can lead to choices which result in shame and harm to ourselves or others. It is important to be aware of thoughts and urges around anger and be willing to recognize when pride (which often likes to prolong anger) or other thoughts and feelings are getting in the way of healthy choices and emotional processing. If you notice yourself lashing out frequently at a level that is unwarranted, you may need to take some space to sort out what is going on. Often, uncontrollable anger is a signal that something is off balance and other feelings come up to offer clues that something isn’t working such as frequent experiences of guilt, shame, and regret or constantly experiencing a need to apologize or worse harden yourself to those you love. It may be that you don’t have time/space where it feels safe to let down your guard and process emotions. It also may be that you are overloaded with tasks and experiencing a constant and unhealthy state of stress.

There are ways to help manage your anger. Asking for help from support people or reaching out to resources and services to help decrease stress and isolation can be a great first step. Planning out ways to take safe space when you start to notice big feelings coming up can also help mitigate dysfunctional anger reactions. Sitting in your car, bathroom, closet, etc. with calming music, a journal, art supplies, or using the space to make a phone call to a trusted love one to process feelings. Prioritizing tasks and letting go of things that can wait in addition to delegating chores if possible can decrease stress responses. Engaging in mindfulness practices or gratitude journaling can help us learn to choose our cognitive focus and lower our stress response activation.

Finally, if you find yourself or loved ones afraid of your reactions and experience thoughts or feelings of violence and aggression, take space away from vulnerable targets of your anger and reach out for help. Therapy offers a supportive, non-judgmental space to learn to listen to your anger in a healthy way and manage your thoughts and feelings. This pandemic is a difficult time exacerbated by isolation, financial and job uncertainty, and over-extension. We understand and are here to help.

By Tracy Lehman, MA, LMFT