While there are many kinds of anger, ranging from minor annoyances to full blown rage blackouts, all types have something in common: no matter it’s form, anger is a secondary emotion meant to protect from a “softer emotion,” like anxiety, pain, or sadness. If you struggle with anger, you probably feel powerless, out of control, or like anger is inherently bad. Fortunately, there are helpful anger management techniques.
It may surprise you to learn that anger is a good thing that serves a purpose. It’s only when you get stuck in anger that it becomes toxic. Simply put, anger informs you that something needs to change. Depending on the cause and type of anger, you might need to set a boundary, process pain or trauma, change your perspective, or learn a skill. Sometimes, an anger management professional can help you identify what needs to change.
Here are 21 anger management techniques to try:
Mindfulness is a level of awareness and self-understanding gained through purposeful and non-judgmental attention to the present. This is the opposite of mindlessness, which is often what happens when we go right from a trigger to full-blown anger.1 It can happen so quickly that it feels like there’s a freeway in your mind.
Mindfulness can help change this dynamic by slowing down the process, making you more aware of each step along the way. Acceptance of reality, without the need to control it, is another important part of mindfulness. It helps us to let go of the illusion of control.
Mindfulness is a skill that requires practice, like going to the gym. Start by working on being more present, aware, observant, and compassionate so that you can more easily access those skills when you need them.
Different types of journaling can help with self-expression and anger management. Just make sure to keep your writing in a safe, private space. Otherwise, there are no rules. If you don’t have privacy, try “expressive writing.” Twice a day, write for 15-30 minutes and then instantly destroy it. This allows you to get any toxic emotions out.2
Morning pages, another type of journaling, involves writing in a stream of consciousness for three pages every morning. There is no wrong way to do this. Just let your pen move across the page. This can be difficult for some, but once mastered, it helps you process difficult emotions.3 If neither of these forms of journaling feels right, come up with your own style!
3. Draw Your Anger
Drawing allows kids and adults to express what their struggle looks and feels like while separating themselves from the anger and realizing they’re not the problem. If you’re an adult doing this, try using your non-dominant hand to draw. Remember, no one expects you to be a professional artist. Instead, try asking your inner critic to sit this one out.
Anger, like all of our emotions, is often experienced inside the body.4 As such, physical movement is a great way to push emotions out, keeping anger from being stored in an unprocessed state.
A few examples of movement used to move negative energy out of your body are:5
- Bilateral stimulation (BLS)
Visualization works most effectively when you imagine the changes that you want to make and the person you want to become. It won’t be very effective if you imagine the actions and behaviors of others.6 Try reliving an experience exactly as it happened up until the moment of conflict. At that point, replace the negative response with an imagined positive one. Include as many senses as possible.
Meditation, which can sometimes overlap with mindfulness, is when we set aside time to sit quietly with our thoughts. Most religions and spiritual practices prescribe a form of meditation as a part of their teachings. For example, some view quiet prayer as a form of meditation. The Merriam-Webster defines meditation as “to spend time in quiet thought for religious purposes or relaxation.”7
7. Stress Management
Stress can easily translate into anger. Fortunately, stress management techniques like grounding can help. While standing or moving, simply notice your balance and how your body feels.8 Scan through your senses and identify what you’re noticing. This can help if you get stuck in your thoughts.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can also be an effective stress management technique. It involves tightening a group of muscles in your body for 4-20 seconds while you breathe in, then relaxing them as you breathe out until you work through the entire body.9 There are many guided recordings online that can help you get started.
8. Build Joy
Building joy will help you to become more resilient to stress and able to bounce back from painful emotions. Creating joy in your life decreases pain and anxiety, helps you live longer, and even prevents dementia.10
Having a gratitude practice will also help you to recognize the positive things that are already present in your life. If you already have a gratitude list, try breathing new life into it. Instead of simply listing the things you’re grateful for, take a moment to allow yourself to feel appreciation for each of those items.
Building joyful relationships can also help you combat anger with empathy and emotional intelligence. Healthy interpersonal relationships are an important component to the foundation of your mental and physical well-being. This is especially important for children, adolescents, and young adults.
9. Create an Anger Timeline
For this exercise, draw six columns on a piece of paper. The headings of each column will be as follows: Trigger, Behavior, Emotional Scale, Thoughts, Sensations, Impulses. Each day, write down a triggering event and log how you reacted in the “Behavior” column.
Write what emotions you were experiencing (e.g., anger, disgust, fear, etc.) under “Emotional Scale,” along with how intensely you felt that emotion on a scale of 1-10. Try to remember what thoughts were going through your head immediately before, during, and after the event. Log those under “Thoughts.”
Next, under “Sensations,” include whatever data you collected from your five physical senses. If you have impulses or instincts (e.g., run, hit, hide, eat, masterbate, etc.) log them under “Impulses.” This practice can help you build empathy for yourself and more awareness about the reactions that need work.
10. Change Your Thought Distortions
Armed with the information gathered in your Anger Timeline, you can start to identify any faulty thinking and beliefs that may be contributing to your anger.
Common cognitive distortions include:
- Polarized thinking: Thinking that tends to be in extremes (e.g., people are good or bad, I am a success or a failure, the situation is black and white)
- Overgeneralization: One experience of a situation means it will always be like that (e.g., if you burn an entree, you conclude that you’re a terrible cook)
- Personalization: You take things personally that have nothing to do with you, or you assume responsibility for events outside of your control
- Mind-reading: Assumption that you know what someone else is thinking or why they’re making certain choices. If you’re in a position of power, this can lead to gaslighting
- “Should” statements: “I should,” “He shouldn’t,” “She should/shouldn’t.” These are all the beginnings of thoughts that usually lead to negative conclusions.
- Emotional reasoning: The assumption that emotions are facts )e.g., you feel like someone doesn’t like you, so it must be true)
- Mental filtering & discounting the positive: This happens when you filter out the positive in favor of the negative to support a negative conclusion
- Labeling: Reducing yourself or someone else to a single negative label (e.g., because you’re not good at chess, you call yourself a loser)11
What you eat impacts your body, mind, and emotions. Most of us can recognize the effects of feeding sugar to a toddler, yet we struggle to recognize that we’re equally impacted as adults. We just have better skills to regulate that impact.
One study found that consuming higher levels of trans fatty acids is linked with higher levels of aggression.12 When we eat better, we feel better. When we feel better, we are better equipped to deal with life’s challenges.
Sleep, like nutrition, is often overlooked and undervalued. We know that cranky toddlers are almost impossible to deal with, but once again, we discount this information as something that adults grow out of or overcome. The reality is that most of us live in a sleep-deprived state.
According to the Mayo Clinic, adults need between 7.5-9 hours of sleep every night. 13-18-year-olds need 8-10 hours; 6-12-year-olds need 9-12 hours; and 3-5 -year-olds need 10-13 hours of sleep. If you’re not getting adequate sleep, try making an effort to go to bed on time. If you still struggle, talk to your doctor. Sleep is foundational to mental and physical health.
13. Assertiveness Training
We’re often angry because we don’t know how to set boundaries or deal with boundary violations. Assertiveness training can help you identify what boundaries you need, set those boundaries, and maintain them – which can seem overwhelming to figure out and implement on your own, especially if you come from a background of constant boundary violations.
A therapist or anger management support group can help you learn the skills for assertiveness, conflict resolution, and setting boundaries. Doing so will naturally build your self-esteem
Teens and their parents or caregivers may have a particularly difficult time with boundaries, especially if the concept of boundaries is new. It is highly recommended to get the help of a therapist or coach to help you navigate the process.
14. Take a Time-Out
Taking a time-out before anger turns into rage is advisable. Time-outs allow you to cool down, calm yourself, and stay inside your rational mind. Try developing a time-out plan before things get bad.
For example, your plan might include taking a walk, writing in your journal, praying, meditating, etc. Then, when you feel your anger escalating, enact the plan and choose to revisit the issue later. If you continue to struggle to find resolutions, find a mediator or therapist.
15. Celebrate Your Victories
Change is difficult and often goes unnoticed. You might start to feel frustrated when your moments of victory and triumph pass by without anyone recognizing them. If you learn to acknowledge and celebrate your own victories, it facilitates that change process. One way to do this is to create a Victory Journal.
For example, try writing, “I didn’t swear at my sister when we were fighting. Good for me! I am so proud of myself.” It may seem silly or awkward at first, but it’s worth a try.
Most blocks to forgiveness tend to revolve around the mistaken notion that forgiveness means restoring the relationship or pretending a conflict never happened. That’s not correct! You can forgive someone and still hold them accountable for their actions. Forgiveness is about letting go of the burdens that have been holding you down.
Trying to write an impact letter in your journal to the person who hurt you. It can be a great way to work through emotions, acknowledge the pain, and move forward. Again, get the help and support of a trained professional, if needed.
17. Address Addictions
If you’re struggling with an addiction, you will be irritable. Regardless of what your addiction is, it’s a part of the process. If you are struggling with substance abuse, seek the help that you need.
18. Create a Support Network
Isolation can be traumatic.13 Fortunately, we have the power to create support networks for ourselves. First, find a therapist that is a good fit for you. Make and maintain supportive friendships, too. In general, surround yourself with people who uplift you. If you’re a member of a spiritual or religious group, your spiritual leader may be of support. If not, join a support group or anger management group.
19. Write a “Dear John” Letter to Anger
Start your letting with “Dear Anger.” Then, thank your anger for how it has helped you. As you look back over life and childhood, you may see how your struggle with anger originated as a mechanism to help you cope and survive. Acknowledging how anger has helped you is an important step in moving on.
The next paragraph will address how anger has shifted to become a problem for you. You will identify the issues that you have in your life and relationships because of your anger. The last paragraph will be you breaking up with anger. Writing such a letter can have a very cathartic effect.
20. Find a Healthy Expression
One of the ways that we prevent anger from becoming toxic is finding healthy ways to express it that don’t harm anyone. You may have to experiment a little and try some different ideas before you find what works for you. As you grow and mature, your ways of expressing your anger most likely will too.
Ideas for healthy expression include:
- Listening to loud music
21. Create Your Own Anger Management Plan
Creating a plan can be helpful. In it, you will want to include new, healthy habits, tips for prevention and expression, things to do when you take your time out, and a list of people you can reach out to when you need support. Keep this plan handy so that you can refer to it whenever necessary. Visualize yourself using the plan, too.
How to Get Help for Anger
Joining a support group can be beneficial to anyone struggling with anger. If you feel overwhelmed or are “blacking out” and not remembering things when you get angry, you should consider seeking professional help from a compassionate, competent therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anger management can be effective in helping to identify triggers and introducing coping skills to effectively manage your anger. You can find a therapist specializing in CBT and anger issues by searching an online therapist directory.
It may also be possible that you’re dealing with untreated trauma, and a therapist can help you through the healing process. You can ask your primary care provider for a referral, check with your insurance company about in-network providers, or use an online directory to search for someone with the exact specialties you’re looking for – for example, if you’re a man dealing with anger, it may be useful to find someone with experience working on anger management strategies for men.
Final Thoughts on How to Control Anger
While your struggle with anger may be unique to you, you are not alone in your struggle. Reaching out and talking with someone you trust, whether it is your therapist, spiritual leader, friend, or family member, can make a big difference in how you feel.
How to Control Anger Infographics