On Tuesday November 3rd, 2015, the Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out was released on Blu-ray and DVD. If you’ve seen this film, you have no doubt laughed (or perhaps cried) at the uncanny manner in which the animators were able to personify the emotions we experience throughout life.
The Power of AngerOne of the most common emotions that the men in my counseling office struggle with is anger. While the Disney/Pixar version of anger is rather humorous, the sad truth is that anger can feel more like a monster than a funny cartoon. Anger has a way of making us do and say things that we would never do or say if we were thinking clearly.
Many of my clients experience anger as an irresistible force that rears its ugly head at the most unexpected moments. It can feel as if anger is taking over what you want to say and do, even before you recognize that it is happening. But the truth is that anger gives you warnings along the way, before you are about to flip your lid. If you find yourself yelling, it is probably already too late to stop your anger. The goal is to manage your anger. And the first step in managing your anger is learning to recognize the warning signs that tip you off that anger is coming. Here are just a few of these signs.
Warnings Signs of Anger
- Increased Respiration
As anger approaches your heart might begin to beat faster. Your pace of breathing will also increase. This is your body telling you that anger is on the way.
- Increased Redness in the Face
As your respiration and pulse increase, the circulation of your blood also increases. You might notice that your face feels hot. You might even notice that you begin to sweat.
- Clenched or Tightened Muscles
Along with an increased pulse and blood flow, you might find yourself experiencing corresponding physical changes in the muscles in your body. These may include clenched fists, a clenched jaw, a tight neck or shoulders, or a scowling face.
- Racing Thoughts
As anger begins to take control, your prefrontal cortex (your logical thinking brain) will shut down and your amygdala (your fight, flight, freeze brain) will take over. This is when you will begin to find yourself ruminating on what is creating your anger, thinking of all the reasons why this problem is so bad, and eventually losing your temper.
Solutions to Anger
By being able to identify the warning signs that anger is coming, you empower yourself to make different decisions in the moment. Here are a few survival tips for dealing with anger before it takes over.
- Deep Breathing (a.k.a. Belly Breathing)
Your diaphragm is your best friend. In fact, the Good Lord gave us a built-in vacation creator in our diaphragm. Take a few slow, deep diaphragm breaths. Count your breaths. Hold your diaphragm full of air for seven to ten seconds, and then slowly exhale. As you inhale and slowly exhale, do a quick mental scan of your body, and release any tension you feel. This simple skill can make all the difference.
- Use Your Words
Dan Siegal coined the phrase “Name it to tame it.” If we can be aware of the feelings that precede our anger, and if we can name those feelings and share them with someone else, our brain will respond over time by creating a new way of coping with anger. Name your feelings out loud to whoever you are dealing with in the moment. Your words have calming power.
Utilizing a timeout can be especially helpful for couples. Agree ahead of time that you will request a timeout if any of the warning signs of anger begin to emerge. Simply remove yourself from the situation and go do something enjoyable or relaxing. There are no time limits on a timeout. Take your time – as soon as your pulse and thoughts slow down, you can re-engage with your partner.
- Physical Exercise
Do something constructive with your energy as anger approaches. Go for a run. Do as many pushups as you can until your arms are limp noodles. Do burpees until your body cannot move any longer. This will distract you and will take the emotional energy and channel it in a physically productive manner.
Anger can feel overwhelming. Yet the reality is that it really does not have to own you. Taking careful, intentional steps to learn your anger warning signs, and implementing an anger management skill in the moment, can make all the difference. I have seen these techniques prove themselves effective time and time again.
Christian Counseling to Deal with Anger
Christian counseling is an excellent place to start facing whatever it is that has you feeling “stuck” – whether it is anger, depression, anxiety, addiction, or a combination of all of these. With the help of a good Christian counselor, you can begin to find the solutions you are seeking.
Both photos from unsplash.com – “Waves,” courtesy of Simon Schmitt and “Man in The Woods,” courtesy of Forrest Cavale