Coping Skill: Dealing with Anger

The Basics of Anger Management

By Lisa Ficker, Ph.D., HSP-P

Managing anger involves a recognition that although anger is an involuntary emotion, what we do with our anger and how we respond to it are entirely within our control.  We are responsible for our language and behavior while we are angry and harsh words or actions cannot be undone. 

Anger management is an essential skill that involves three steps: 

1) recognizing the early signs that you are angry,

2) giving yourself space and time to process your anger, and

3) practicing coping skills to prevent the anger from overwhelming your responses. 

Often, the first step is the most difficult and takes the most practice to achieve, but it also has the biggest payoff.  Anger is much more easily managed if it is not fully escalated.  How do you know when your anger is beginning to build?  First and foremost, you need to become aware of your body.  Reflect on your body when you are angry – is your face flushed, jaw neck and shoulders tense?  Is your heart racing, palms sweating, and your breathing shallow?  Is your voice raised and short in tone?  Over time, you will learn to recognize these signs early on to stop and tend to these strong feelings before they become overwhelming. 

To do this, you will need to temporarily separate yourself from the situation (note:  even adults need time-outs!) and take some deep breaths, focusing on your exhale.  Counting to three on an inhale and then draw out your exhale while you count to 4 or 5 will help. 

Next reflect on the situation and try to avoid blaming thoughts or jumping to conclusions.  What is the other person experiencing and would you be upset if you were them?  If you are flooded with anger, it may take 20 minutes or so to calm down.  Physical exercise can help or any distraction.  Return to the situation when you feel able and when you are ready to listen as well as talk.  When you communicate, stick to “I” statements (“When you …, I felt …”).  Be specific, descriptive, and refrain from telling the story of why you are angry.  Be sure to LISTEN to the other party. 

Over time, you will learn to identify other feelings that often occur with anger, such as grief, anxiety, sadness, which will deepen your communication and open the door to reconciliation and mutual understanding in your relationships.

Dr. Lisa Ficker is a clinical psychologist at Breyta Psychological Services. She specializes in the treatment of couples, ADHD, anger, trauma and PTSD, depression, insomnia, anxiety, and the impact of physical health on emotional health. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Ficker, contact us to learn how to get started.