Hot-tempered? How to use anger to your advantage

While often seen as a negative, anger is a valid emotion. When properly managed, it can become a powerful tool for driving personal success.

We’ve all witnessed a child erupt into a ball of wild-eyed anger in a public space.

That scene is usually accompanied by a parent or caregiver doing whatever they think is necessary to shut it down – fast.

While we do need to tame the unbridled fury of a toddler denied an ice cream, such experiences teach us quite early that anger is unacceptable, psychologist Dr Marny Lishman points out.

“We’ve been conditioned in society to only express the positive emotions and hide away those negative emotions, but every single emotion we have is valid and needs to be processed and learned from,” Dr Lishman says.

How anger can be a positive emotion

Dr Lishman says often when we think of anger, we associate it with angry people or what the emotion looks like, and we perceive that as confronting.

“But anger is one of those primal emotions that we’ve needed for survival,” she explains.

“Our ancestors would have felt anger as a result of their brain perceiving a threat in the environment, and the brain would have turned on the fight or flight response – it would have made people run away very quickly or fight for their lives.”

Anger is an activating emotion, motivating action in response to a trigger, mindset psychologist Dr Rebekah Wanic explains.

“Paying attention to when you get angry and what you are angry about can give you insight into perceived injustice or mistreatment and when controlled effectively, can stimulate beneficial discussions with relationship partners, co-workers or others that can help generate a resolution,” Dr Wanic says.

Negative effects of suppressing anger

Dr Wanic says bottling up our anger can result in several negative consequences.

“It can manifest in physical issues like headaches, high blood pressure, mental strain and emotional dysregulation – including increased expressions of aggressiveness, resentment and poor communication in relationships, or an overall sense of dissatisfaction,” Dr Wanic says.

She says signs your anger may be out of control might be evidence of its negative impact on you or others.

“If you notice physical signs like headaches or a racing heart rate, relationship problems, or frequent outbursts of verbal or physical aggression, you might not be managing your anger effectively.”

Healthy ways to manage anger

Don’t dismiss it

Your anger is telling you something isn’t right – your brain perceives a threat – so rather than dismissing or ignoring it, Dr Lishman recommends exploring the source of it.

“Use the emotion or anger to really workshop why you might be feeling like that,” she says.

“Then you’ve got powerful information about how to respond.”

Challenge unhelpful thinking

The solution may be something you can action, such as having a candid conversation with someone, Dr Lishman says.

However, she notes, if the source of your anger is something you cannot change, you may need to consider learning strategies to challenge unhelpful thinking or asking yourself, ‘What can I let go?’.

Take appropriate action

Dr Wanic says channelling angry emotions in a healthy way requires self-reflection and learning to control your initial impulse.

“Simple things like taking time to count to 10 before doing anything, engaging in deep breathing, or taking a timeout can help you take control of your feelings and make better decisions about how to confront a problem,” she says.

“Sometimes exercising can be a helpful way to get out the extra energy as well.

“You can also use the time while you are exercising to mentally process the experience and brainstorm effective ways to deal with things.”

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Written by Claire Burke.