Updated: Jun 19
We all experience anger at times, it is a perfectly normal human emotion but a lot of shame and guilt can surround anger or angry outbursts for us.
At times we have to control the inner child or rage monster because it's just plain and simply not appropriate to lose your s**t in the school playground, supermarket, at work and various other places! Read on to discover why we get angry and how to tame the rage.
So what happens when we experience anger?
When we get angry lots of things happen within our body.
Our brain has detected a potential threat triggering our very primitive, emotive brain to kick in and engage the flight or fight response. This leads to the vagus nerve (polyvagal theory) telling our bodies to react and prepare to fight or run away resulting in changes to our breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, our sense of smell, even our digestion stops resulting in dry mouth, nausea and often a feeling of needing the loo!
Our brain switches to black and white thinking- there are no shades of grey for the angry mind! This is not the time to make decisions because they are likely to be very poor ones indeed, that we may regret later down the line once we are thinking rationally again.
How can you tame the rage?
7/11 Breathing - I know everyone rolls their eyes at this but genuinely deep breaths works wonders!
Breath in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11 (think of the American convenience store to remember it!). Like you are blowing, slowly and in a controlled way, through a straw.
This helps to regulate your breathing and heart rate, reduce your blood pressure and rebalance the oxygen/carbon dioxide levels in your blood which have gone all wonky thanks to the increasing breathing rate your body did to get ready for action.
Lists - list out boring things. 6 names of supermarket chains, 10 types of leaf, 8 species of bird- anything that really doesn't float your boat. You have to think about this- you are forcing your brain to bring back the rational more advanced part of your brain responsible for this type of task.
It needs to be something boring that you list so that you don't further stimulate your primitive brain- so don't go for your hobby, names of people you love or anything that might be in any way exciting.
Grounding - Use some grounding techniques (often used with anxiety attacks) to bring you back to the here and now and reengage your rational brain. Go for a walk, ideally bare foot on the grass if possible! This will quite literally ground you as you feel the grass beneath your feet, the very cold damp grass if you also live in the UK like me!
Hold a textured object- feel it with your hands as you do your 7/11 breathing and really focus on how it feels.
Use your sense of smell- smell something nice like your favourite perfume/aftershave or that of your partners.
Listen- what can you hear? birds, cars, the fridge humming, the dog snoring?!
Utilising your senses can really help to ground us and bring us back to the present and rational thought very importantly.
Chew - Remember earlier how we said your stomach stops digesting when we get angry and you get dry mouth? Well this is because who would be eating during any life threatening moment? No one! So with that in mind we can trick our brains into thinking all must be well by chewing gum.
Chewing gum triggers your stomach to start producing stomach acid ready to digest whatever you are eating, this confuses your brain and tells it that everything must be ok if we can eat.
Fuel your body - What we eat and drink has a massive impact on our emotional state. Eat well (lots of fruits and veg) and regularly to avoid the hanger associated with low blood sugars.
Try to avoid high sugar foods and drinks, caffeine and alcohol. Try to drink lots of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and clear headed.
Access feel good chemicals - dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins are our happy chemicals.
You can access these by doing hobbies/tasks you enjoy, celebrating little wins, exercising, meditation, laughing, giving others compliments, hugging partners/children/pets.
(Also all very useful tips for controlling anxiety!)
Why am I so angry?
Often we feel anger when...
Circumstances are out of our control or we experience an injustice.
We are having an angry response but it's actually masking another emotion such as anxiety, loss or sadness.
Some of our needs aren't being met such as shelter, warmth, love, comfort, meaningful contact with other humans, occupation, feeling mentally and physically stretched at work etc.
Often identifying why we experience anger means we can address the underlying cause rather than just dealing with the symptoms.
Author: Gill Jackson of Gill Jackson Therapeutic Counselling, BA Hons Counselling, Diploma in Couples and Family Therapy, Diploma in EFT, Assoc. CIPD, SMACCPH
Bio: I am a Therapist/Psychotherapist, Accredited Mentor and Trainer in private practice in the UK, qualified since 2007. Working with adults and young adults. I specialise in Anxiety Disorders and Depression.
This article is not intended as a replacement for medical advice, if you are suffering from any physical or mental ill health please seek advice of your Doctor where necessary.
Images used with permission from Wix and Unsplashed.