8 Tips for Dealing With Anger When You’re Sober
Emotional regulation is one of the key skills to learn when recovering from addiction and anger is one of the most challenging emotions to regulate. Anger can come on quickly and feel overwhelming. It can lead to rash decisions, arguments, strained or broken relationships, or even accidents.
If you tend to repress your anger, you can avoid some of the consequences of anger but you may have other problems instead, including depression, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, and more frequent illnesses. Whether you more often lose your temper or stuff it down, dealing with anger in the wrong ways can damage your health, your well-being, and your recovery from addiction. The following are tips for dealing with anger in a healthier way.
Know What Anger Is
First, it’s important to understand that anger, like all emotions, is not inherently bad and is useful in some situations. Fundamentally, anger is a response to a threat. In the simplest situation, someone attacks you physically, you get angry and fight back, and they leave you alone.
However, these days, anger is rarely the result of a direct physical threat. It’s the result of disagreements, obligations, criticism, unfair situations, and other kinds of frustration, most of which won’t respond to physical threats. As a result, unresolved anger becomes a kind of chronic stress. Resolving it is largely a matter of identifying the perceived threat and finding an appropriate solution.
Know Your Own Tendencies
As noted above, people tend to inappropriately respond to anger either by exploding or suppressing, neither of which is typically helpful. It’s important to be aware of which behavior is more typical for you. If you explode, you probably know it, but you may not be as aware of suppressed anger, especially if it’s a habit you formed in childhood. Depression, resentment, and chronic pain often involve an element of suppressed anger.
It’s also important to know what kinds of things make you angry–your triggers. Often, anger involves some combination of stress and insecurity. For example, if you’re under a lot of stress at work, you may be more likely to lose your temper with your spouse, especially in some area you already feel insecure about.
Learn to Pause
The first skill to master when it comes to managing anger is the pause. This means that when you are aware of becoming angry, you give yourself some time before responding. This isn’t suppression; it’s just collecting yourself so you don’t say or do anything to make the situation worse.
It often helps to have a go-to technique. Maybe you count down from 10 or take five slow, deep breaths. After the first wave of anger passes, you should be able to think a little more clearly and employ an appropriate strategy.
Learning to relax has two important benefits for managing anger. First, it lowers your baseline. We all have a certain set point that is partly physiological. Also, stress tends to accumulate. If you practice relaxing every day, you shake off some of your accumulated stress and you gradually lower your set point for anger. Typically, relaxation will involve some deliberate routine, such as progressive relaxation, where you focus on each body individually and let it relax.
Or you may use some kind of visualization or some kind of breathing exercise. The second benefit of practicing relaxation daily is that you are better able to relax when you feel yourself getting angry. It’s easy to get swept away with anger, so practice is key when you need to relax under pressure.
Mindfulness meditation is a great practice for managing anger because it combines the relaxation and awareness of your own tendencies discussed above. Mindfulness meditation is just spending a few minutes every day keeping your awareness in the present moment, nonjudgmentally observing any sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise. After practicing this for a few weeks, you’ll be more aware of the relationships between your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.
You will also be able to use your mindfulness skills in the moment to manage your anger. For example, when you pause, you can watch the progression of anger without getting swept away by it. You can feel the physical sensations, such as your face getting hot, your throat getting tense, and so on. You can also notice what thoughts are associated with your anger, which brings us to the next point.
Watch Your Thoughts
As noted above, these days, we rarely experience anger as the result of a direct physical threat. Our anger is mostly a result of our thoughts and beliefs about a situation. Anger is typically caused by frustration, which is often associated with assumptions about how the world should be, “That guy should be more considerate,” “This process should be more efficient,” “That policy should be fairer,” and so on.
And maybe some of those things are true, but we have to take the world as we find it. Another common distortion is jumping to conclusions or assuming the worst possible outcome. That feels threatening, which can lead to anger, but in reality, the worst possible outcome rarely happens.
Improve Your Communication
Sometimes anger does actually signal that something needs to change. This is the kind of situation in which you want to express your anger but in the most constructive way possible. To do that, you typically need to pause and collect yourself before moving forward.
The next step is to communicate clearly. That means understanding what you want from a situation as well as being willing to listen to the other person. Communication is a huge topic but start by listening with an open mind and communicating your needs without accusing or condemning the other person.
Work on Solutions
Finally, not all anger is the result of direct interpersonal conflict. Forgetting your password can be just as enraging as being slapped in the face, but smashing your computer on the desk will only make you feel better for about three seconds. Instead, allow yourself to calm down and start working on a solution. Think of it as an opportunity to practice frustration tolerance, the core skill in managing anger. Pause as often as you need to but keep working steadily toward a solution.
Anger is a common problem and the nature of anger makes it a difficult problem to solve. It takes practice and it may take therapy as well. The good news is that anger appears to respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, the most commonly used form of therapy today. Medication will also be part of therapy for some people with anger issues.