Feeling angry? Experts share 6 tips to get those feelings under control.

Angry man with cellphone
Are you quick to lose your temper? Experts give tips on how to help manage anger. (Getty Images)

You’ve been waiting 45 minutes for your food delivery order — and it gets sent to the wrong house. The airline lost your luggage after making your plane sit on the tarmac for hours. Or you’re driving to work and someone cuts you off. Suddenly, your grip on the steering wheel tightens, your heart pounds and your breathing speeds up. You are angry — and you’re not alone.

According to Ryan Martin, author of Why We Get Mad: How to Use Your Anger for Positive Change and known as the “Anger Professor,” people get angry when “there is some stimulus, event or situation that happens in their life, and they very quickly — within half a second [or] even quicker — interpret or appraise that thing as negative, unfair, poor treatment, or blocking their goals in some way.” These situations are seen as a “kind of provocation.”

The resulting anger, Martin says, takes both a physical and emotional toll. Here’s what to know about how anger can affect our health, and what experts recommend doing to get those feelings under control.

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When you’re angry, the sympathetic nervous system — your fight or flight system — is activated. “Your muscles tense up, your heart rate increases, you breathe more rapidly, your digestive system slows down or stops,” Martin, dean for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, says. Chronic muscle tensions can lead to severe headaches and neck and back pain.

Martin adds that there are also “indirect physical consequences that come from how people tend to cope” — such as the negative effects of drinking alcohol or other “compensatory behaviors.”

A new study published in JAMA also found that one eight-minute episode of anger negatively affects blood vessel function. “Anger impairs your blood vessels’ ability to dilate, which is an early sign of vascular problems,” lead author Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. Shimbo says this raises the possibility that, over time, anger can function like a “chronic insult to your arteries” and cause irreversible vascular damage, such as atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which is a precursor to heart attacks and strokes.

Anger can also have a negative impact on interpersonal relationships, says Martin. It can lead to fights — physical, verbal or online — and create distance in relationships when a person’s anger scares those closest to them. Anger also increases people’s risk for other dangerous behaviors. “We often see people who experience a lot of anger tend to drink more and tend to do other drugs more and drive dangerously — not aggressively, but dangerously. They speed more, change lanes inconsistently [and are] more likely to run red lights.” Martin tells Yahoo Life.

Worried that experiencing frequent bursts of anger is damaging your health and relationships? Here’s what experts suggest trying.

“If you’re already tense, angry, hungry — all of those things influence how angry you get when you experience some sort of stimulus or provocation,” Martin says. The first thing people can do to reduce anger, is take care of themselves physically and emotionally in advance of an event that might incite anger.

For example, eating well, sleeping well and keeping your schedule on track — getting stuck behind a slow driver is more frustrating when you’re already running late — can leave you better able to deal with anything that might otherwise set you off. “When I experience that provocation, I may get a little frustrated, but not nearly as mad as when I’m already tensed or stressed,” Martin explains.

Martin wants people to ask themselves if there are provocations that they are inviting into their life. He recalls a friend who realized that he got angry while watching sports, so he decided to limit the amount of time he spent doing that. When people stop or limit those provocations, they’re saying, “I’m not going to invite [this] into my life any more,” Martin says.

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Gregory Kushnick, a psychologist in New York City, has found that often people with anger management issues are provoked by others because they feel like they know best and think that it is their job to teach people a lesson. Not only does this behavior often feel intolerable and hurt close relationships, but also it can make someone feel angry all of the time, Kushnick says.

When a person cuts them off in traffic or a person walks too slowly on the sidewalk because they are using their phone, Kushnick encourages his clients to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and reframe the situation, so they don’t default to judgment. Maybe the person is driving fast to get to a sick relative. Maybe the person on the phone has an important call they can’t miss.

“First, know when you’re triggered and then be able to say to [yourself[, Who am I to judge?,” Kushnick tells Yahoo Life. “You want to defuse your own judgment with innocuous situations [because it] can be translated into more high-stakes situations with a child, parent, partner [or] colleague.”

People can employ different techniques — from deep breathing to grounding or visualization exercises — to “bring down the physiological arousal,” says Martin. “When [you’re] sitting in your office and feeling really frustrated, you can sit back and put your head back and imagine you are in the forest or at the beach or somewhere like that.”

If those techniques don’t work, another good option is to walk away, Kushnick adds. “Removing yourself from a contentious situation is likely to change your emotions,” he says.

Anger isn’t all bad. It can also be a motivating or empowering emotion, says Kushnick.

“It’s always good for people to hear that anger is often justified,” Martin agrees. “It’s often a normal, healthy response to injustice or to having goals blocked … so the goal isn’t always to reduce anger, it’s to experience it in a healthy way and channel it into healthy and productive ways of dealing with it.”

Anger may help people solve problems and speak up for themselves in their relationships. For example, anger may inspire people to write a letter to their senators or create art. “Let’s address whatever this problem is, and let’s use that anger as a motivator,” Martin says.

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If your anger becomes self-destructive, it’s time to seek help, says Kushnick.

“If you see yourself regularly getting into physical or verbal fights or regularly coping with your anger in unhealthy ways, it might be time to see a professional,” Martin says. “I think that’s especially true if you’ve taken steps to address it on your own, and you haven’t been able to.”





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