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Mental Health Tips > How to deal with anger?

How to deal with anger?
(Special thanks to Dr Martina Cheung, Clinical Psychologist of Castle Peak Hospital, for authoring this article)

Anger is one of human’s emotions. It has its values and functions. It motivates us to protect ourselves and to fight for our rights. However, if anger is not properly managed, it may lead to some physical and psychological problems. Therefore, it would be beneficial for us and for people around us to learn how to manage anger.

1. How to know if a person has anger problems?
2. Is it helpful to use hitting others, scolding others or hitting a pillow as catharsis?
3. If someone you know has anger problems, how can you motivate him/ her to change?
4. What are the common anger triggers?
5. What are our physical reactions when we are angry?
6. How to calm yourself down?
7. How to minimize the interpersonal conflicts?
8. How to modify the common anger-provoking thoughts?
9. How to maintain continuous improvement?

1. How to know if a person has anger problems?

If you have the following conditions, you may have anger problems:
  • Being angry for too long and the anger is too intensive
    After being angry, you have difficulty calming yourself down. You tend to think about the incident repeatedly, even your appetite and sleep are affected. You feel that your anger is so intense that you can’t concentrate or think effectively. You may even have some impulsive behaviours.

  • Being unable to control verbal aggression or behavioural violence
    You are unable to control verbal or behavioural aggression because of your anger. You may even displace your anger to some innocent people. You may damage objects, scold others, use foul language or even attack someone.

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2. Is it helpful to use hitting others, scolding others or hitting a pillow as catharsis?

People think that it is helpful to use hitting others, scolding others or hitting a pillow as catharsis. However, many studies in psychology indicated that catharsis cannot tame one’s anger. It actually increases the intensity of one’s anger in the future.

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3. If someone you know has anger problems, how can you motivate him/ her to change?

You may guide him/ her to understand the problems related to anger, including:
  • Damage relationships – People usually dislike those who get angry easily, especially the ones with violence. People may fear the hostile individuals and fulfill their requests in the short term. However, the interpersonal relationship is affected in the long run.

  • Fail to achieve one’s goals – Anger keeps us focusing on retaliation, even ignoring the loss we have to pay. We actually can’t solve the problems by retaliation. The problems may be maintained or even worsened.

  • Physical problems – Anger can be a stressor to our bodies. People who frequently get angry may have cardio-vascular problems, headache, stomachache, etc.

  • Other negative feelings – After calming down, the individual may be regretful, shameful, depressed or angry with oneself because of one’s impulsive acts.

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4. What are the common anger triggers?

The common anger triggers are:

  • Thinking that you are unfairly treated.

  • Thinking that you are intentionally provoked.

  • Thinking that you are interfered by him/ her.

  • Thinking that you are insulted.

  • Thinking he/ she is responsible for the unfavorable situation.

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5. What are our physical reactions when we are angry?

When we feel angry, we would have palpitation, fast breathing, frowning, muscle tension, blushing, etc. These physical reactions have their survival values in ancient times. They facilitate the individuals to fight with enemies or frighten the enemies away. Nowadays, if we have these anger-related physical reactions frequently, it may lead to physical illnesses, including heart disease, hypertension, headache, etc. Under this condition, we can’t think rationally. Therefore, it is important to calm ourselves down.

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6. How to calm yourself down?

  • Take a deep breath. Focus on your breathing. Repeat the word “relax” in your mind when breathing out. Repeat until you calm down. You may close your eyes to help yourself to concentrate.

  • Hold your fists as hard as you can. Feel the feeling of the tight fists. Then relax your fists. Feel the relaxed feeling over your hands. Repeat these steps until you calm down. You may hold tight and then relax other body parts (e.g., shoulders, forehead, jaws, etc.)

  • Imagine you are now in a relaxing place (e.g., a beautiful beach). Describe to yourself what you see, what you hear and what you smell. Feel the sand under your feet. Feel the warmth of the sunshine on your skin. Imagine all these as vividly as possible in your imagery. Continue until you calm down.

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7. How to minimize the interpersonal conflicts?

Good social skills are “lubricant” in interpersonal interaction. It can reduce the interpersonal conflicts and the concomitant anger.

  • Refuse others’ request gently – When you refuse others’ requests, be firm but polite.

  • Apologize sincerely as needed – When you need to apologize to others, express sincerely that you are sorry for what you did. Don’t find excuse for yourself. If possible, tell him/ her how you would improve in the future.

  • Accept others’ criticism on you – listen to others’ criticism on you. Improve yourself and avoid the same mistakes. Apologize to others as needed. Others’ criticisms can be helpful for us to make progress.

  • Give comments to others – When you give comments to others, point out first what they have done well. Then give clear and specific suggestions for improvement.

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8. How to modify the common anger-provoking thoughts?

  • Don’t catastrophise the situations – If we take the perspective that the incident is very serious (e.g., being insulted or rejected by others), our anger would become more intense. Actually, these incidents usually only lead to some short-term losses (e.g., wasting time or losing face). Long-term effects are rare. Next time, you may ask yourself, “Will this be important to me after one week, one month or one year?”

  • Don’t tell yourself, “This is unbearable for me!” – Telling yourself this would only increase the rejection and disgust. It is wise to accept the current situation and try your best to find the solution.

  • Don’t say, “He should…she should…” – Lower your expectation of others. Try to say “I would like him/ her to…” or “I hope he/ she would…” instead of “He/ she should…” You can reduce your disappointment and anger by doing so.

  • Have a full picture of others’ behaviours – Don’t just remind yourself what he/ she did incorrectly in that moment and think that is part of his/ her personality. Remind yourself the moments when he/ she treated you well.

  • Find evidence to support your thinking – Ask yourself, “What is the evidence that he did it intentionally? What is the evidence against your assumptions? What are the alternative explanations for his behaviour?” Analyze the incident objectively or take a perspective as a third person. It helps to reduce our unnecessary anger.

  • Accept that unfairness is part of life – All of us want to be treated fairly, but unfairness is actually part of life. If we expect to have absolute fairness, we may create distress for ourselves.

  • Remember the cost of your anger – If you choose to retaliate, no matter whether you succeed or not, you have to pay for your anger. Chronic anger would be harmful to your body, emotion and social functioning. You may be happy for a while when making the opposite side suffer, but it would not lead to real benefit for you in the long run.

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9. How to maintain continuous improvement?

  • Maintain the motivation to change – Remind yourself the disadvantages of being angry, especially the long-term disadvantages (e.g., others dislike me, my family is afraid of me, I may have cardio-vascular problems.)

  • Don’t set your schedule too tight – If your schedule is too packed, there is no time to deal with unforeseeable situations (e.g., traffic jam). You would be tense all the time. Any obstacles would lead to intense anger in you.

  • Lead a balanced life – Arrange time for doing exercise or other leisure activities in order to reduce the stress.

  • Don’t let the problems accumulate – If we put the unresolved issues aside (e.g., dissatisfaction towards one’s spouse), problems would accumulate. When there is a trigger, we may become very hostile. The opposite side would be puzzled and perceive it as our emotional problems. Therefore, when the problem is still not serious, it is better for us to deal with it.

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