Why Am I So Angry?
Anger can be a force for good, but chronic, intense anger is neither helpful nor healthy. Here's how to get a grip.
Most of the time you’ll answer “no” to at least one question; if so, this is
not one of those times when your anger is a sign that you should take
some action. Better to distract yourself from your angry feelings and get on
with your day.
If you answer “yes” to each question, you have a legitimate beef and should
take action (but spend some time brainstorming possible responses before doing
anything). Often the best approach is to speak not aggressively but assertively
-- not to swallow your ire but not to spit it out either. Explain your feelings
as impassively as possible, and request a specific change in the other person’s
behavior. For example, if you’re mad because someone called you “dumb” for a
remark you made, don’t simply say “Stop putting me down!” Say, “You called me
dumb. I feel hurt and angry. Please don’t use words like ‘dumb’ to describe
This simple approach can go a long way toward restoring your tranquility.
“When you answer the four questions and either distract yourself or take
constructive action, you no longer feel quite as helpless about the situation,”
Williams says. “As much as is possible, you’re taking control, whether it’s of
your own thoughts and feelings or the other person’s behavior. This can be a
very powerful way to reduce the anger you feel.”
Research confirms the value of Williams’ approach. In a recent study, heart
patients were asked to describe a situation that had made them angry. Those who
had received anger-management training experienced less anger and a lower surge
in blood pressure than those who
had not received the training.
Tips for Taming Your Anger
Here’s what else you can do to keep anger from turning toxic:
- Take better care of yourself. Often it’s possible to curb anger
simply by cutting back on stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, which can
shorten your emotional fuse. Getting more sleep can also help. Ditto for exercise. “I’ve found that anger is
less of a problem for people who work out regularly -- say running an hour
a day,” says Karina Davidson, PhD, a clinical health psychologist at Columbia
University in New York City and president of the American Psychological
Association’s health psychology section.
- Talk over your feelings. Having a heart-to-heart with a friend or
family member can help you understand and overcome your anger. “Hearing honest
feedback from others can be a great way to understand and change our emotional
responses,” Davidson says. “Sometimes the people around us are better than we
are at recognizing our characteristic emotional responses, if we’re willing to
- Just don’t go overboard: Kupfer says that rehashing your anger with more
than a couple of people can actually reinforce angry feelings, making them more
intense rather than less intense.
- Practice delay and distraction. Counting to 10 really works for some
people, as does wearing a rubber band on your wrist and snapping it each time
you feel angry. Mindfulness meditation can help, as can
humming a favorite tune or saying a prayer, Williams says. He also advocates
deep breathing -- silently intoning the word “calm” each time you breathe in
and “down” each time you breathe out. “Listening to loud, aggressive music can
be a great way to curb anger,” Davidson says. “Anything that takes your mind
off angry feelings.”
- Get help for depression. Psychologists used
to believe that anger and depression were two sides of the same coin. But
recent studies involving PET scans of the brain reveal the two conditions are
distinct, Davidson says. Even so, experts say that depressed people often feel
angry, and that getting help -- via psychotherapy and/or antidepressant medication -- is a good idea. The same SSRI medications
prescribed for depression often prove helpful for chronic anger.
- Stop believing that life must be fair. It’s a cliche to say so, but
life isn’t fair. Feeling that it should be sets you up for resentment and rage,
Kupfer says, “Most of the time, we get angry because we feel that someone has
violated one of what has been called our ‘unenforceable rules,’” such as the
“rule” that other motorists should be courteous or the “rule” that Bernie
Madoff shouldn’t have stolen from his investors. Stop trying to enforce these
rules, he says, and you may find it easier to keep on an even keel.