Why Adults With Anger Can Benefit From Taking a Time-Out

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Anger tends to be upsetting in any case, but you're probably well aware that it isn't always easy to know how to cope with anger. Here is a proven method for helping to lessen your anger before it can get worse and some tips for making it work.

The plan is to take a "time-out," which means briefly removing yourself from an anger situation that's getting worse and letting yourself cool down. The steps involved in planning for a time-out and taking it are described below.

How to Create Your Anger Time-Out Plan

Step 1. Make a plan for how to cope with anger before you find yourself in a heated situation. The idea is to decide ahead about what you'll do to cool down the situation and yourself. Think about where you'll be and who else will be there. Choose a quiet, relaxing place to go on-site in case you need a time-out. Come up with some things you can do to cool down during a time-out, such as deep breathing or mindfulness exercises.

Step 2. Plan what you'd like to say to explain taking a time-out. It's important to be very clear and open about your feelings and your needs.

Step 3. Once you're on-site, stay alert for "body cues" that warn a situation is getting too heated for you and your anger is increasing. Body cues may include a more rapid heart rate and a higher level of body tension. Pay attention to how your body feels. Remember, the earlier you catch your anger, the better you can manage it.

Step 4. If something is making you angry that doesn't involve another person, and you can feel your anger increasing, it's time for a time-out. Remove yourself from the situation as soon as you can.

If you feel yourself getting angry with another person or a group, tell them you need a time out. But don't just get up and leave. Instead, explain how you're feeling and why you need to excuse yourself for a few minutes.

Use "I" statements in your explanation. For example, don't say, "You make me so angry I just have to leave the room." Instead, say, "I am noticing that I am starting to get upset. So I am going to take a few minutes to calm down, and then I would like it if we could continue our conversation."

Step 5. While you're explaining the actions you're going to take, make an effort to manage your anger. Try some of these coping skills for managing stress.

Step 6. Once you're in your time-out space, remember that you're supposed to be cooling down. Don't get caught up in doing things that sustain or increase your anger, such as going over the situation in your mind or thinking about who said what and how it made you feel. Practicing mindfulness can help keep you from getting caught up in negative thoughts and self-talk.

Step 7. After your anger has come down to a more manageable level, and before returning to the situation you left, think about what you'll do and say when you get there. Take a moment to practice your plan to make sure you can stick to it.

Step 8. When you're ready with your plan, return to the situation and put it into effect. If you were talking with another person or a group, express your appreciation of their understanding. Thank them for giving you the opportunity to calm down.

Tips for Making Your Time-Out Work

To give your time-out plan the best chance of working to control your anger, try these tips:

  • Plan ahead. Time-outs are not supposed to be unpredictable or sudden. Think ahead about where you can go and the things you can do during a time-out.
  • Practice. The more you practice your time-out plan, the easier it will be to use.
  • Time-outs are not escapes. Make sure you always return to the situation so that it can be resolved calmly and effectively.
  • Let others know that you'll be taking time-outs to help keep angry moments from getting more heated. The people you share this with will respect your commitment to your relationships with them.
  • Keep in mind that time-outs won't always be effective. Seek out additional opportunities to learn how to cope with anger. Remember, the more "tools" you have for keeping your anger under control, the better you will handle it when the need arises. If you continue to have difficulty managing your anger, consider obtaining therapy with a mental health professional.

By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.