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Emotion Regulation: Anger

When is anger appropriate? When is it not?

Everyone gets angry. It’s a natural reaction in many cases, but it’s also an overreaction for some people. Emotional health experts say anger is healthy (in moderation) and can help you learn about yourself, your boundaries, and even strengthen relationships. When is anger appropriate as a response? Well, when something you’ve been looking forward to is suddenly unavailable (for instance, the band you were really excited to see has cancelled their show due to an illness) anger can be an appropriate response. Or when you or someone you love is attacked either physically, emotionally, or fundamentally; it’s justified to become angry. But there are times when anger isn’t justified and you should to be able to recognize those situations and step back to assess what’s happening and be able to control your reaction. One example of a time when anger might not be justified is if your spouse agrees to dinner with your parents-in-law without consulting you. While you might become angry, until you know more about the situation and why your spouse made that choice, it is best to try to avoid reacting from anger.

Counsellors at Kells follow the DBT® Skills Training and recommend reacting to unnecessary anger with opposite actions. It sounds difficult, but with the following steps, you can learn to regulate your anger.

Opposite Actions for Anger

If you have the urge to be angry and respond inappropriately, do the opposite of what your anger urges you to do.

  1. Walk Away – avoid the person you’re angry with as opposed to attacking them
  2. Take a Time Out – focus on your breathing instead of the situation causing anger
  3. Be positive and kind – instead of being mean and insulting

If these first few steps don’t deescalate your anger, take it a step further with these tactics.

All-the-Way Opposite Actions for Anger

  1. Look at the situation from another point of view – try to empathize with the other person
  2. Relax your posture – unclench your fists and jaw, relax your core muscles, and put on a smile
  3. Force your heart rate to quickly change with paced breathing or a quick burst of physical activity (stairs, jumping jacks, etc.)

With time, practicing these opposite actions for anger will help you recognize, understand, and regulate your feelings. Being able to regulate your anger will help you be resilient when facing difficult situations and reduce suffering when anger overcomes you.

As mentioned above, anger is sometimes appropriate. However, managing it can take work. In a future blog post, we’ll discuss anger in further detail including how to keep it in check even when it’s a warranted emotional response.