by Heather, a loveisrespect Advocate
Survivors often experience anger due to the abusive things they’ve been put through, and self-care can be helpful for anyone- survivor or not- whose anger is getting the best of them. If you’re concerned that you’ve let your angry feelings lead you to choose abusive behaviors, check out this other post first. Remember that there’s no excuse for abuse– not anger, or mental health concerns, or addiction, or even past abuse.
Our feelings can get the better of us sometimes- maybe we’re so happy we shout in a space that we’re supposed to be quiet in, or we’re so sad we end up crying in front of someone that we barely know. Anger is the one emotion that is most commonly blamed for bad behavior, for making us act “out of control” or doing things we say we wouldn’t have if we weren’t so overcome with emotion… So, how can we wrangle our rage so that we are in control? To start, it helps to remember that feelings shouldn’t be judged and can’t be controlled. We’re only in control of what we do with those feelings- our words and actions.
The first step to taking care of yourself when you’re angry is being able to recognize when anger is building up inside, before it overwhelms you. If you are someone who feels angry regularly, it’s a good idea to take some time alone when you’re not angry to think about the recent situation that made you mad. Think about what happened or what was said that started the spiral of making you feel bad. Think about how you physically felt in that moment and as your frustration grew. Think about what you did with your anger- how you pretended it didn’t exist, or perhaps you lashed out, or maybe you maturely dealt with it. Journaling about your feelings may help you start to notice if there is a pattern to your anger.
Now that you can see the big picture of your anger, you may be able to be more aware of those feelings next time they start simmering into something potentially unhealthy, like obsession or rage. You can even write yourself a letter about the possible consequences of your anger that you keep with you as a reminder to not let your feelings get the best of you. The idea behind this is that next time you feel these emotions, you can take healthy action before you “see red” or harm others or yourself with your fury.
Research has repeatedly shown that “letting off steam” doesn’t actually help reduce anger. In fact, it has been shown to increase aggression. So what is the solution? While the more well-known options like counting to 10, walking away from the situation, playing with your pet, or visualizing your favorite natural setting are all wonderful, here are some of our advocates’ favorite self-care activities to do when feeling irritated, upset, or downright hostile.
- Raise your pulse: Running, swimming, yoga, bowling, tennis, etc. can help physically channel your energy into movement. Movement/exercise releases calming and positive chemicals in your body, which ultimately helps you mitigate those upset feelings.
- Get gaming: Any kind of game where you interact with other people and follow rules can get you out of your own head. Try going to the arcade to play air hockey, play basketball with your siblings, or try out a new board game or video game. Focusing on something external can be helpful when trying to calm yourself down.
- Write your feelings out: Putting written (or typed) words to how you feel can help you process a situation that has you feeling angry. After it’s all on paper, you can read it over to sort out whether your reaction was fair or not. Having it written down can also serve as a reminder of what happened, if you’re having doubts in the future.
- Get creative: Crafting, drawing, painting, writing poetry or short stories, building something, and cooking are all healthy ways to channel your anger. Plus, you end up with a unique creation on the other side!
- Let the music move you: Music can have huge effects on our brains. Listening to metal when you’re angry is likely to just going to keep you enraged. Instead, try listening to music that makes you feel happy and calm, or something you can dance to. Maybe even write your own music!
- Get clean: Hygiene can be easily forgotten when dealing with overwhelming emotions, but getting back to basics can help us feel more human again. Try splashing some cold water on your face or take a hot shower to relax.
- Just breathe: Taking slow, deep breaths signals to your brain that you’re in a safe space, which can help lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate. Check out these meditations on anger for a guided breathing experience.
- Get help: Everyone could use a good therapist! A professional therapist can dive into the details of your anger with you and even share de-escalation tactics to work on.
- Sleep it off: Feeling mad/hurt is a normal human emotion, but being angry can really take a lot out of you- especially if you’re not getting enough sleep regularly. Try taking a nap next time you just need a break from people who are frustrating you.
Regardless of the self-care strategy that you choose- be that, making a melt-your-face-off hot salsa, meditating on how beautiful the sky is, or becoming the reigning champion of air hockey- the next time your anger starts to feel uncontrollable, know that you took good care of yourself in the face of a big emotion. Remember, you are in control of your words, actions, and behaviors.
Advocates at loveisrespect are not counselors, but we can talk with you if it feels like anger is coming between you and your partner. We’re here 24/7 by online chat, phone and text to talk about healthy, unhealthy, and abusive romantic relationships.