VA Palo Alto Health Care System
Mastering your Anger
Many Veterans struggle with anger. Some people describe “seeing red,” and others might notice feeling really revved up. When you get too angry, it is easy to react to a situation without thinking. Anger that is out of proportion for the situation can put a strain on your relationships, make it harder to find or keep a job, or just make you feel out of control.
Why do I get angry?
Like other emotions, anger is a hard-wired, full-body response to a specific type of situation. For most people, the following types of situations can provoke anger:
- You (or someone you love) are being attacked or threatened;
- An important goal is being blocked;
- You feel you are losing status or respect;
- Things are not turning out the way you expected; or
- You are feeling physical or emotional pain.
Sometimes, getting angry can help you defend yourself; however, letting your anger take control can often make the situation worse. For example, if your doctor is working hard to understand your medical problem but has not yet been able to tell you your diagnosis, you may feel angry because you are not making progress toward your goal of getting healthy. But going into “battle mode” and yelling at your providers may push them away and prevent you from getting the help you need.
What can I do to master my anger?
Before you can respond to the situation in an effective way, you will want to get your anger more under control. These skills can help you calm down quickly so you can make a conscious, clear-headed decision about how to respond to the situation:
- Temperature: Cold water or ice can trigger a change in your body called the “dive response.” This response slows down your heart rate, which can help you feel calmer and more in control. Try splashing cold water on your face, or hold an ice pack to your eyes and cheeks for 30 seconds.
- Intense exercise: Moving your body can help release excess energy caused by anger, making you feel more in control. Try jumping jacks, running, lifting a heavy weight, or another intense form of exercise. Be sure to pick a type of exercise that you can safely engage in. If you are unsure, ask your health care provider.
- Paced breathing: Sometimes when you get angry, you may start to breathe too quickly. This can make you feel even more angry and out of control. Try slowing your breathing down by breathing out more slowly than you breathe in. For example, count to five as you breathe in, and then count to seven as you breathe out. Once you have slowed your breath down to five or six breaths per minute, you are likely to feel much more in control of your anger.
Learning and using tools to manage anger can help you feel happier and more in control of your life. If you struggle with anger, the VA offers many resources for anger management, including group and individual therapy. Talk to your health care provider to find out more and get a referral for anger management services.