Ask Asad: When I am angry, I lose all control over my words, actions. Can you help?

It happens instantaneously, I can't seem to control it


Asad Shafi December 04, 2017

Dear Asad,

As an individual, I am a very cheerful person who does not get angry frequently. But if someone does something which I do not like or annoys me, I get extremely angry. This condition of mine often leads to me abruptly losing control over my words and actions. Please help me in overcoming this habit.

An angry person

 

Dear angry person,

Anger is a natural human emotion and it is not always negative. It is a process of coping with stress and helps you know when you have been hurt or when a situation needs to change. It can serve a healthy purpose by protecting you against continued abuse or wrongdoing. If you perceive that someone is harming you, you will likely become angry, and that anger will prompt you to confront the person or end the harm in another way.

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However, if you regularly experience overwhelming rage, it could damage your mental and physical health as well as your relationships. Frequent feelings of anger have also been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and lack of sleep. Therefore, it is important to control your emotions and calm yourself down for your own and those of others as well. Try the following techniques.

Get some exercise

When you feel angry, doing moderate exercise – running or cycling – could help you. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins which are natural "feel-good" chemicals that make you feel more positive and happy. If you are unable to run or cycle, consider walking, stretching and other easier forms of exercise. Leave the situation that is making you angry if you can, and shake out your limbs vigorously. Even small physical distractions can help you feel better.

Get enough sleep

Being sleep deprived can contribute to the inability of managing emotions properly. Poor sleep or little sleep can cause irritability, mood swings, and a tendency to feel angry more often than usual. Getting adequate sleep – 7 to 8 hours for adults – can improve your mood and lessen your anger.

Think positive

Your life should be a pursuit of happiness. When you begin to get upset, take solace in the things that make you truly happy. Try to realise that there is more to living than voicing your displeasure with frustrating situations all the time.

Positive self-talk

Changing the way that you think about something from negative to positive – known as cognitive restructuring – can help you deal with your anger. After you have given yourself a moment to calm down, discuss the situation with yourself in positive and relieving terms.

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Find change of scenery

Change to a new location if you are feeling angry. Changing the scenery helps in two ways; it allows you a break from the person or situation causing your anger and it gives you something new to focus on that is not your anger. If possible, take a walk outside. Being outdoors can help improve your mood. Notice any wildlife or natural beauty.

Visualise happy places

If you are having a difficult time calming down, imagine yourself in a place you find incredibly relaxing. It could be any place that makes you feel peaceful. Focus on imagining every detail of the place: the light, the noises, the temperature, the weather, the smells, etc. Keep dwelling on your happy place until you feel completely immersed in it and become absolutely calm.

Try meditating

Meditation can help you maintain your calm during upsetting experiences. It can help you control your emotions, both in the moment of anger and in the long term. Meditation has a positive effect on your brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing. Daily meditation in the mornings can help you control your anger significantly. To meditate in the moment of anger, first, remove yourself from the situation causing the anger and then do the following.

  1. Take slow, deep breaths. Maintaining this breathing will likely bring down your elevated heart rate.

  2. Visualise a golden-white light filling your body as you breathe in, relaxing your mind. When you breathe out, visualise muddy or dark colours leaving your body.

  3. Once you are calm from your meditation, think about your emotions and decide how to deal with the situation that angered you.


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Breathe deeply

If your heart hammers with rage, slow it down by controlling your breathing. Breathing deeply from your diaphragm (the large muscle at the base of your lungs that assists with breathing) can help soothe feelings of anger. Deep, controlled breathing slows your heartbeat, stabilises blood pressure, relaxes your body and can contribute to controlling emotions.

  1. Find a quiet place to relax. Lie down if you like, and loosen any tight or uncomfortable clothing.

  2. Place your hand on your abdomen.

  3. Inhale slowly through your nose. Focus on filling your abdomen with air as you breathe in. Let your abdomen relax as you inhale; you should be able to feel your stomach expand. Hold this breath for a few seconds.

  4. Breathe out slowly through your mouth. Contract your abdominal muscles to push all the air out of your lungs.

  5. Keep breathing until you feel that you have regained control.


Progressive muscle relaxation

This involves tensing and releasing your body in progressive stages. Consciously tensing your own muscles can help you redirect the outlet of the anger you are feeling. It can help distract you from your feelings of anger. It is also excellent for relieving anxiety and tension, which can in turn help alleviate angry feelings. This exercise also works to help you sleep when your thoughts are out of control. Take a few deep breaths, then do the following:

  1. Begin with your feet. While inhaling deeply and slowly, squeeze the muscles in your feet as hard as you possibly can. Focus on that group of muscles and try not to accidentally tense surrounding muscles.

  2. Hold the tension for 15 seconds, then release it. Focus on the experience of the tension leaving your feet muscles.

  3. Allow yourself to relax for about 15 seconds, then move on to another muscle group.

  4. Work your way up your body, tensing each group of muscles. As you release each muscle group, imagine anger, stress, anxiety, etc. leaving your body as you feel the relaxation take over.


Listen to music

Listening to music can be an excellent distraction technique that can help you release your anger. The British Academy of Sound Therapy has created a playlist of songs deemed relaxing, including songs by the Marconi Union (Weightless), Airstream (Electra) and Enya (Watermark).

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Repeat self-calming statements

Find a statement that is meaningful to you, and try focusing your attention on this statement as you repeat it. Here are a few you could try:

  1. This situation is only temporary.

  2. I can make it through this.

  3. I will keep my cool about this.

  4. This is not worth getting upset about.


Keep an anger journal

Begin writing down details about your anger. If you have an episode or event in which you lost control of your temper, write it down. Reflect on not only what happened during an event or experience, but how you reacted and what your train of thought was. Awareness is a crucial first step to processing and overcoming anger. Be sure to include exactly how you felt, what caused you to be angry, where you were, who you were with, how you reacted, and how you felt afterwards.  Try not to judge these feelings as you write. Just express them so that you can become aware of what you are feeling.

After you have kept your journal for a while, you should begin to look for commonalities among entries to identify the people, places, or things that trigger your anger. Ask yourself:

  1. What incited your feelings of anger? Were you already feeling stressed before this incident?

  2. What thoughts did you experience during this experience?

  3. On a scale of 0-100, how angry do you think you felt?

  4. Did you lash out at others or internalise your anger?

  5. Did you notice any physical symptoms, such as an elevated heart rate or a headache?

  6. What responses did you want to have? Did you want to scream, attack someone, or smash things? What responses did you actually have?

  7. How did you feel after the incident or experience?


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Use humour

If you find yourself in a situation that is frustrating, try using humour to lighten the mood. Casting the incident in a humorous light can actually change the chemical response in your body from anger to humour. Making fun or light-hearted jokes can bring down your tension levels, as well as the tension levels of those around you, making your social interactions much less likely to escalate to a point where you feel the need to become angry.

Give yourself time to respond

If the situation or person that angered you is one that you cannot avoid in the future, give yourself a break before you respond. Waiting until you have calmed your mind and body to return to the stressful situation can allow you to return with a more rational response.

Ask for the support of someone you trust

Sometimes sharing your concerns with a close friend or confidant can help you vent your anger. Clearly, express what you want from the other person. If you just want a sounding board, state at the beginning that you do not want help or advice, just sympathy. If you are looking for a solution, let the other person know.

Restructure your thinking

Cognitive restructuring can help you experience anger less frequently. Anger often leads to exaggerating your response to events or experiences and can make you spiral out of control. Changing the way you think about your experiences and goals can help you avoid feeling angry and manage it.

Share your experiences with the person who annoyed you

Once you have let go of your angry feelings, sharing your feelings and experiences with the person who upset you can be helpful. If someone hurt your feelings, calmly talking to that person and explaining why you felt hurt may help them understand how their behaviour affected you. It may also help you feel more in control of the situation.

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Try therapy

If the above-mentioned coping mechanisms prove ineffective in dealing with your feelings of anger and your anger has progressed to the point that it is interfering with your day-to-day life or your ability to maintain positive relationships – see a therapist. A therapist can assess the root of your problem and whether or not you require therapy, medication, or some combination of both.

A psychotherapist who specialises in helping resolve problems from someone’s past (such as neglect or abuse from childhood) can help mitigate anger tied to past events. He/she can help you work through the underlying feelings and motivations behind your anger. This is especially helpful if your feelings and their causes are not particularly clear to you.

All the best!

Asad

 

Asad is a counsellor, life coach, inspirational speaker and a personal-development expert. He advises on social, personal and emotional issues. You can send him your questions for this weekly column at [email protected] with “Ask Asad” mentioned in the subject line and provide as many details as possible.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Express Tribune.

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