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Anger is a natural and healthy emotion that everyone feels from time to time. But when you find yourself being caught off guard with unexpected anger or feeling anger at a time when you can’t express it, it can be difficult to cope with.

So, what can you do when you find yourself feeling anger unexpectedly? Below are some strategies to help you keep your calm and respond appropriately.

1. Acknowledge Your Feelings When you’re caught off guard with anger, you might start to feel defensive or emotional and not immediately know why. Before you do or say anything, assess your feelings, acknowledge that you’re angry, and attempt to understand the likely cause of the anger. Anger is a powerfully protective emotion that is useful in informing us that something you value is under threat. Ask yourself:

  • What is feeling threatened? (For example, if you are angry at your kids for interrupting as you write an important email, it might be your ability to focus that is under threat.)
  • Besides anger, what other emotion am I feeling right now?

2. Take a Breath As you acknowledge you’re upset, stop and take a breath. Put physical distance between you and the other person by taking a couple of steps back.

3. Be Curious Instead of Furious If you have difficulty controlling your anger, it can be all too easy to jump instantly into furious mode and unleash your anger. Instead of being angry, be curious. Consider why this person is behaving this way, or saying these things. Maybe they had a bad morning or heard some upsetting news.

4. It’s Not Personal Oftentimes when people are behaving inappropriately or saying hurtful things, it’s because of things going on with them in their own lives. Practice reminding yourself that it’s not personal to you. You might even notice your anger deflate if you attempt to empathize with them.

5. Use “I” Statements When you’re upset, it might not always be appropriate to respond. Sometimes it’s best to just walk away. But if you do need to say something, focus on the behavior you find unacceptable without placing blame. Talk specifically about your feelings and the effect of the behavior on you. By communicating without placing blame, you are more likely to be understood and work toward a resolution, rather than putting the other person on defense and starting a conflict. If you’d like some specific assertive communication strategies, check out our blog, “How to Gear Up for an Awkward Conversation.”

If you’re still feeling upset after a difficult exchange, try calling a friend to vent, write your feelings down in a letter you’ll never send, or do some exercise. Go for a walk, or join a friend for spin class. Do something nice for yourself later, like cooking a special dinner or taking a hot bath. When it comes to anger, remember that in the long run it’s best for you to control it, rather than allow it to control you.

Are you having difficulty managing your emotions? Is anger beginning to have a significant negative impact on your life and relationships? A licensed mental health professional can help you work to more effectively manage your anger. Call our office today to schedule an appointment.