Is Anger Stopping You from Getting Sober?

Tips for managing your anger and enjoying your recovery

Understanding anger

Anger is a natural, healthy emotion. It’s neither good nor bad. It is our way of expressing that we’re feeling upset or threatened. However, if expressed in a rash manner, our message gets distorted.

While it is perfectly normal to feel angry when we feel mistreated or wronged, the problem arises when our expression of the emotion harms us or others.

Negative effects of anger

Chronic anger that flares up frequently can have serious consequences for you:

Physical health: Anger makes you constantly operate at high levels of stress, and you make become more vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes, a weakened immune system, insomnia, and high blood pressure.

Mental health: Chronic anger consumes a significant amount of mental energy, and clouds your thinking, making it harder to focus or enjoy the good things of life. It can also lead to stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

Career: In a workplace environment, constructive criticism, creative differences, and healthy debate are commonplace and lead to better work outcomes. But lashing out only alienates your colleagues, supervisors, or clients and alienates you, and you lose respect in their eyes.

Relationships: Anger can cause deep scars in the people you love most and get in the way of friendships and work relationships.

For recovering persons, it can jeopardise their efforts at rebuilding broken relationships. Others find it impossible to trust you, or speak honestly or be comfortable in your company. Anger is especially harmful for children.

Managing Anger in Addiction Recovery while anyone can have anger management issues, persons in addiction recovery need to learn to deal with their anger.

Anger may be directed at oneself, at other people, organisations (such as law enforcement), or society as a whole. Without learning to process anger healthily, a person with an addiction cannot move forward in his or her recovery.

The most crucial reason anger must be addressed during addiction recovery is that anger is strongly linked to relapse. Whether you harbour anger inside or lash out at others, it can create roadblocks in your recovery journey if it is not dealt with appropriately.

What’s Behind Your Anger?

Anger is merely a symptom of deeper emotions. Fear, pain, guilt, shame and low self-esteem are usually the triggers of problematic anger.

During early recovery, the individual faces the demons within – linked with past behaviours and thinking patterns. Unpleasant memories arise, evoking feelings of guilt and shame.

There are also fears, of the future, of how people will judge you, of abandonment, of stepping onto the unchartered territory of sobriety.

During the recovery process, especially the 12 Steps, the individual explores and revisits these painful emotions and processes them with the help of a therapist or sponsor.

Understanding the root causes of anger is the first step to addressing anger constructively.

Tips to Manage your Anger

The popular belief is that anger management is about learning to suppress your anger. But never expressing anger is not a healthy practice.

The fundamental goal of anger management isn’t to stop feelings of anger but rather to understand the trigger behind it.

That way, you can address the root cause of anger. And it would be best if you learned to express it healthily without losing control or causing harm.

Like any skill, learning the art of anger management takes work – as you practise this skill in early recovery, it will get easier. And the more you practice, the easier it will get.

Tip 1: Explore what’s the trigger behind your anger

If you look back, you may realise that you have often gotten into an argument over something silly.

Big fights often happen over minor issues, like a dish left out or being few minutes late. If you look deeper, you’ll discover that there’s a bigger issue behind it.

Maybe your anger masks inner feelings such as embarrassment, insecurity, hurt, shame, or guilt?

If your knee-jerk response in a situation is anger, your temper is probably an attempt at covering up your unresolved feelings.

This is especially likely if you grew up in a family where expressing feelings was strongly discouraged. As an adult, you may have a hard time acknowledging and expressing emotions other than anger.

Anger can also mask anxiety. When you perceive a threat, either real or imagined, your body activates the “fight or flight” response. In the “fight” response, it may come out as an angry outburst or aggressive behaviour.

To modify your response, you need to find out what’s causing you to feel anxious or scared. Anger problems can also stem from what you saw and learned as a child.

If you watched others in your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, you might believe this is how anger is supposed to be expressed.

Anger may even be a symptom of another underlying mental health problem, such as depression, trauma or anxiety.

Tip 2: Be aware of your anger warning signs

Look back at times when you exploded in anger. You’ll observe that there are, in fact, physical warning signs in your body.

Becoming aware of your symptoms that your temper is starting to rise will help you to take steps to manage your anger before it gets out of control.

Check if any of these warning signs happen to you:

  • Clenching of hands or jaw
  • Knots in your stomach
  • Feeling clammy or flushed
  • Faster breathing
  • Headaches
  • Pacing or needing to walk around
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Tensing your shoulders

Tip 3: Identify your triggers

Stressful events don’t excuse anger, but understanding how these events affect you can help you take control of your environment and avoid unnecessary aggravation.

Look at your routine and try to identify activities, times of day, people, places, or situations that trigger irritable or angry feelings.

Maybe you get into a fight every time you go out with a particular group of friends. Or perhaps the traffic on your daily commute drives you crazy.

When you identify your triggers, think about avoiding them or viewing the situations differently so they don’t make your blood boil.

Tip 4: Learn ways to cool down quickly

Once you begin to recognise the warning signs that your temper is rising and predict your triggers, you can act quickly to deal with your anger before it spins out of control.
Here are some techniques that work:

Take some deep breaths. Deep, slow breathing helps in alleviating rising tension. Breathe deeply from your abdomen, getting as much air as possible into your lungs.

Get moving. A brisk, short walk is a great idea. Physical activity releases pent-up energy so
you can revisit the situation with a cooler head.

Give yourself a reality check. When you start getting upset about something, take a moment
to think about the situation.
Ask yourself:

  • How important is it in the grand scheme of things?
  • Is it worth getting angry about it?
  • Is it worth ruining the rest of my day?
  • Is my response appropriate to the situation?
  • Is there anything I can do about it?
  • Is taking action worth my time?

Tip 5: Find healthier ways to express your anger

Suppose you’ve decided that the situation warrants you to get angry and something you can do to make it better, it is essential to express your feelings in a healthy, non-aggressive way.

Try and positively resolve the conflict – it will only strengthen your relationship rather than damage it.

Always prioritise your relationship. Maintaining and strengthening a relationship is more important than “winning” an argument. Respect the other person’s viewpoint. Focus on the present.

Don’t recall past grievances and use them to spoil the ongoing debate. Try and resolve the present problem instead of building a case. Be willing to forgive. You cannot resolve conflicts if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive.

Resist the urge to punish – it will only add more stress which is not healthy for recovering persons.

In recovery, letting go is an essential tool. Know when to let something go. If you can’t agree, agree to disagree.

Tip 6: Self-care

Taking care of your overall mental and physical well-being can help you stay calm. Manage stress. If you are frequently stressed, you will find it more challenging to control your anger.

Try practising relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, or deep breathing. You’ll feel calmer and more in control of your emotions.

Talk to someone you trust. Nothing eases stress more effectively than chatting face-to-face with a friend or loved one. For recovering persons, talking with a fellow member, sponsor or therapist eases the mind.

You may not get all the answers you are seeking, but you’ll be in a better frame of mind and less likely to flare up.

Get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep can aggravate negative thoughts and make you feel agitated and short-tempered. Seven to nine hours of good quality sleep daily is good for your well-being.

Exercise regularly. At least 30 minutes of physical activity helps you burn off tension and ease stress. After a workout, you feel more relaxed throughout the day.

Tip 7: Use humour to relieve tension

When a situation gets tense, humour and playfulness can help to lighten the mood, smooth over differences, reframe problems, and keep things in perspective.

When you feel yourself getting angry in a situation, try using a little light-hearted humour.

It also enables you to get your point across without getting the other person’s defences up or hurting their feelings.

Keep in mind that you laugh with the other person, not at them.

Avoid sarcasm. You can also laugh at yourself using self-deprecating humour. Everybody loves people who can
gently poke fun at their failings. After all, we’re all flawed, and we all make mistakes.

Tip 8: Recognise if you need professional help

If your anger is still spiralling out of control despite putting these previous anger management techniques into practise, you may need more help.

Talk to a therapist about your anger issues. The professional may help you to explore the reasons behind your anger and process those hidden triggers. The therapist may also refer you to group therapy or anger management classes.

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