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Control your anger before it controls you

Everyone can get angry, but destructive anger that leads to violent or self-destructive behaviour is one of the least well-managed mental health conditions among men. 

Master Yoda said it best when he told young Anakin Skywalker that anger leads to suffering. But how do you stop yourself from going down that dark path?

Dr John Kearney, director of Psychological Services at Wesley Hospital Kogarah, believes there are some simple steps that men can take to ensure that they best manage their anger. 

Managing anger would not only assist men in combating their own self-destructive behaviour but would have a flow-on effect in combating other issues like family and domestic violence. 

Dr Kearney said anger was an important emotion to feel as it can help people deal with difficult situations, but if it occurred too often, it is a disorder.

“When it occurs frequently and with too much intensity – or is increasingly linked to aggression – it becomes a destructive emotion that can be classified as a disorder,” he said.

Dr Kearney said that extreme anger was often driven by stressors like death of a loved one or social instability, and when coupled with a mental illness like alcohol dependence, it could rapidly escalate.

To manage anger, Dr Kearney said it was vital to address three domains: physiological, behavioural and intellectual.

“Anger has physiological effects on our body, such as redirecting blood flow to the major muscle groups, altering our usual behaviours, and changing our intellectual functioning, making it difficult to think logically or rationally,” he said.

The seven tips that Dr Kearney has for men to control anger are neither difficult nor complicated but could be important in assisting men.

1. Learn to recognise the early warning signs.

Anger often escalates rapidly – you can lose your temper before you are even aware of it. There are physiological and cognitive changes that occur as you become angrier, such as getting hot in the face and a faster heartbeat. By recognising these changes before they occur, it will become easier to manage your anger before it gets out of hand.

2. Identify and acknowledge your triggers.

Acknowledging what triggers your anger can help you avoid it in the future and allows you to identify what you should do to change your reaction in a particular situation. Triggers might be things such as being stuck in traffic, which may lead to road rage, or getting blamed for something you did not do, which can lead to irritable, verbal outbursts.

3. Reduce bodily tension.

When you get angry, your heart and blood pressure increases and blood flow is redirected towards the major muscle groups. To reduce this bodily tension, do muscle relaxation exercises by slowly tensing and relaxing each muscle group in the body, or take part in physical exertion such as cycling or running.

4. Know when to withdraw from a situation that could turn hostile.

When you realise you are becoming very angry or are in danger of losing control, the best thing to do is to walk away from the situation. Doing so will prevent you from saying things that you might regret or from becoming potentially violent, such as threatening someone near you by slapping, shoving or pushing.

5. Use distraction strategies to prevent aggression.

Your thoughts become narrow when angry, resulting in illogical thinking. You can resolve this by diverting your attention to the environment around you and concentrating on something nearby in detail, or by counting your breathing.

6. Challenge angry thoughts through a series of self-directed questions.

When angry thoughts arise, ask yourself a series of questions that challenge the truth and reasonableness of your thoughts. For example, if you begin thinking negatively of your spouse leaving dirty dishes in the sink or being stuck in an unpleasant social situation, ask yourself how logical, realistic or useful it is to think that way.

7. Avoid spreading your anger through social media.

Before you post an angry tweet or an enraging Facebook story, make sure it is not a product of your irrational thoughts. Anger spreads more virally than other emotions – so people are more likely to react, getting yourself or someone else in trouble. The consequences of exploiting anger on social media can be dire, from loss of jobs to even criminal charges.

Most importantly, men needed to breath and remove themselves from damaging situations, said Dr Kearney, and instead focus on something else.

“When you find that anger has changed your behaviour, withdraw yourself from the situation to prevent damaging words or violent outbreaks. Lastly, manage attitudinal changes by employing distraction strategies, such as focusing on your immediate environment,” he said.

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