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Anger management

Image showing fire burning representing angerAnger is a useful emotion in many ways. It alerts us to when injustice has been done, or it can be a sign that things need to change. However, in some situations, anger can be overwhelming and even lead to destructive behaviour. Read on to learn more about anger, as well as what to do to help you to manage your anger better.

  • What is anger?
  • Know your anger triggers
  • Be alert to anger warning signs
  • Ways to calm down in the moment
  • If you did lose control
  • What’s behind your anger?

What is anger?

Anger originates from one of the more primitive regions of our brain (the amygdala). This part of the brain is geared for survival, and includes functions like breathing and blinking. Anger and aggression also serve a survival function, such as when a person or animal is under attack and need to fight back to survive.

When we become angry, this more basic region of the brain activates and takes over (often referred to as “emotional hi-jacking”). This means that it becomes almost impossible to access functions like thinking or reasoning when in this state.

Anger management techniques
When practicing anger management, your goal should not be to “never get angry”. This would be both unhealthy and unrealistic. Instead, aim to notice the warning signs so that you can get a better handle on your anger and express it more constructively.

Know your anger triggers

Are there particular times or situations where you tend to feel angry? Maybe you get in a fight with a particular group of friends after a drink, or perhaps being stuck in a taxi during rush hour makes your blood boil. Identifying triggers will help you to work out strategies to reduce situations where you often feel anger, such as preferring other groups of friends, or leaving campus at a different time to avoid traffic. Alcohol and some other drugs can also make it more likely for anger to get out of control.

Be alert to anger warning signs

Knowing and identifying your own anger warning signs gives you time to come up with a strategy to calm yourself down. Common anger warning signs include:

  • Clenching your jaws or grinding your teeth
  • Headache
  • Butterflies in your stomach or stomach ache
  • Sweating, especially your palms
  • Feeling hot in the neck/face
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Pacing or needing to walk around
  • “Seeing red”
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Pounding heart
  • Tensing your shoulders

Ways to calm down in the moment

Infographic of anger management tips

Tune into the physical sensations of anger. This may sound counter-productive, but tuning into how your body is feeling in the moment can help you to reduce your tension. For example, focus on how you feel your face burning, or your fists clenching.
Name the feeling - In your head, say “I am angry” silently to yourself. This helps to bring in the language and reasoning part of your brain, to help turn down the volume on anger. More
Take a breather. Step away from the situation and maybe even go outside to help you to turn down the anger.
Exercise. Go for a run or walk if you can, or even do some jumping jacks to help release the angry energy.
Take slow, deep breaths. Slowing down your breathing helps your body to feel calmer and slow down your heart rate. Particularly focus on slow and steady out-breaths. More
Use your senses to distract you from your anger. Smell something intense (such as mint or coffee), taste a strong flavour (such as lemon or dark chocolate), touch something soft (like a soft jersey) or look at nature or pictures you enjoy.
Slowly count to 10. This one is an old classic, but is useful in giving yourself a moment to regain control.
Stretch or massage areas of tension in your body, such as your neck.

If you did lose control

If you did get so angry that you lost control, apologise and take responsibility for your anger once you feel calmer. Practice the strategies in this article so that you may be more likely to manage your anger in future.

What’s behind my anger?

Did you know that anger can sometimes be covering up other feelings, such as sadness or helplessness? If you are angry a lot of the time, getting in touch with a wider variety of feelings can help. Acknowledging other feelings behind your anger means that you will be able to control your anger better.

Another common reason behind anger is that there is a particular event or situation that has led to the anger you are feeling now. If you’re struggling to let go of an experience or unable to get in touch with other emotions, try getting professional help (such as at CCDU) to help you to move on.


Wits Student Crisis Line 0800 111 331 (24/7/365)