How to Manage Your Anger During Conflict

Stressed businesswoman working late

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It's not easy to keep your cool when you're angry, but it's essential. After all, to keep your anger at a manageable level, you must know how to maintain your composure even when you feel like your buttons are being pushed.

Being able to recognize, understand, and control your anger allows you to communicate more effectively. This, in turn, leads to stronger and healthier relationships, both in your professional and personal life. Here are our best tips for managing conflict, tension, and anger.

Identify (and Avoid) Your Triggers

Everyone has different "anger triggers" or things that commonly lead them to respond with anger. These triggers are unique to each person and are usually based on individual life experiences. For instance, if you were teased about your weight as a child, you may react angrily to comments about your weight as an adult.

Here are common events and situations that can trigger anger in most people:

  • A friend joking about a sensitive topic
  • A friend not paying back the money they owe you
  • Being wrongly accused
  • Cleaning up other people's mess
  • Rumors or gossip
  • Violations of personal space

Know Your Body

Anger doesn't usually just pop up out of nowhere. You're not happy-go-lucky one minute and raging the next. Most people experience a number of physical cues that let them know when they're upset. Common physical responses to an anger-provoking event include:

  • Clenched jaw
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Tight shoulders
  • Shallow breathing
  • Sweating or shaking

Tuning into these changes in your body allows you to take steps to manage your anger. By recognizing your personal warning signs, you can use tools to reduce your anger before you say or do something you'd regret.

Breathe

Even if you're already in an argument, it's never too late to stop and take a deep breath. When you start noticing yourself getting tense, try to focus on breathing. The key is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible into your lungs. Slow, deep breathing helps counteract rising tension and turn on the relaxation response. Your heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, and your muscles relax.

Take a Time-Out

Give yourself some time to calm yourself down. As time passes, you will be able to be more objective about the issues and to sort out the truth about the situation more clearly. So if things are getting a little too heated, excuse yourself for a moment. Get some water or go to the bathroom. You can even take a quick walk around the block.

The more time you give yourself to process your emotions, the less intense they are likely to be.

Listen Carefully

Active listening enhances communication between you and the other person. This, in turn, reduces the potential for misunderstandings. It also fosters empathy and reduces feelings of irritation before they get a chance to boil into full-blown anger.

Give the other person time to explain their view of the situation. You may have overreacted. The whole disagreement may not even be that serious once they explain.

Arguments usually start when a person doesn't feel like they're being heard. And they're often resolved, not when both parties agree, but when everyone feels heard and understood.

Use Humor

Don't take everything too seriously and learn to laugh—at yourself and at whatever anger-provoking situation you may find yourself in. Finding humor in difficult and frustrating situations can help put you at ease, both physically and physiologically.

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, your body's natural feel-good chemicals, and reduces the level of stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, and adrenaline) found in the blood.

Humor also helps put everyday irritations into perspective. In the grand scheme of things, most problems are nothing more than minor annoyances and not worth your anger or tension.

Seek Help

If anger has been causing problems in your life and you’re struggling to tame your temper on your own, try talking to a friend or family member. Sometimes talking through an issue or expressing your feelings to that person can be helpful.

If you continue to feel overwhelmed, you might want to seek professional help. A mental health professional can get to the root of your anger and help you find healthy ways to deal with it. While you can't completely eliminate angry feelings, you can learn healthy ways to express yourself and reduce the intensity of your negative emotions.

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