Management Track

23 Expert-Approved Anger Management Tools to Use When You’re Pissed Off

The purpose of these exercises is not to ignore the emotion, but to recognize and control it.

Originally Published: 
Man trying to be calm closing his eyes and taking in sunlight

Anger is a natural, primitive emotion, one that serves a number of distinct purposes, from helping us set boundaries when we need space to pumping us full of additional adrenaline when we encounter an altercation. In other words, it’s very useful. It’s also very not, as it can emerge in the wrong situations and lashing out is an easy way to isolate yourself from family and friends. When trying to manager anger, the purpose is not to ignore the emotion, but to understand and stay ahead of it. That’s why it’s also important to have a variety of go-to anger management tools at your disposal. So what anger management tools are the most useful? We asked a variety of therapists, all of whom offered tricks to help recognize, understand, and extinguish the emotion so that it doesn’t shoot off like a solar flare and singe those around you who don’t deserve it. Here are 25 anger management tools to use when you’re feeling pissed off.

1. Count Backwards From 10

“A quick way to calm down is to practice mindful breathing while counting backward from ten. When we’re angry, we get hijacked by our fight or flight response in our amygdala, which turns off the problem-solving parts of our brains. Focusing on our breath helps calm the amygdala while counting helps activate the frontal lobe of the brain, which helps us with problem-solving.” — Elizabeth Eiten, LMSW, CCTP, psychotherapist

2. Write Your Thoughts Down

“If you can, write it down. If you’re angry with someone or something and they’re not there, go and start writing. Writing down our feelings and thoughts can not only dissipate the anger but it can also provide us insight into why we even got angry.” — Dr. Rudi Rahbar, Psy.D

3. Yell In Your Car

“If you have time or space, you can yell in your car or shake your arms or even run in place. If you are in the situation, you can walk or shift positions or create a large exhale to discharge energy.” — Nicole Siegfried, Ph.D, CEDS

4. Distract Yourself

“Sometimes, we lean in too much to unhelpful emotions that are sustaining our emotions. Whether we want to admit it or not, we sometimes get caught up in the fantasy of these emotions and will feed into the anger. We might replay it over and over again in our minds or seek validation from friends, loved ones or coworkers to ‘prove’ that our emotions are justified. But if we take time away from the emotion of anger for even a few minutes and ‘productively distract’ ourselves by focusing on other things, we could actually see a shift in our emotions for the better.” — Annie M. Varvaryan, Psy. D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

5. Preemptively Focus On You

“One of the best approaches for calming down when you’re feeling anxious is to increase your overall level of self-care during the daytime hours. Working out, seeing a therapist regularly, and having a strong support system can all help take you from a level 10 to a level 6.

The stronger your ability to care for yourself the calmer you will be in the evening. Additionally, evening self-care routines like drinking green decaf tea, taking a warm bath, yoga, or reading a book before bed can help you wind down.” — Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S

6. Take Responsibility For Your Own Feelings

“Change the conversation you are having with yourself. Negative self-talk is not helpful. Take personal responsibility for your feelings rather than blaming others, and challenge your automatic thinking. Also, practice thinking like an optimist. Always view the glass as half-full. And adjust your expectations. Do you expect too much of others? Do you expect too much of yourself? This only fuels anger.” — Cathryn Leff, LMFT, CCTP, PhD Candidate

7. Put Your Anger in Context

“Learn how to scale your own anger. The better you get at using your own ability to register your anger, the better you will get at calming down. First try to figure out what happens when you get angry. What do you do? What do you feel — hot, cold, head throbbing, etc? Then ask yourself how angry you feel on a scale of 1 to 10. If it’s a 9 out of 10, then ask yourself what you can do to move to an 8 or 7 out of 10. Bonus points for asking a partner for accountability to help you do this in the heat of the moment.” — Carla Buck, MA, LMHCA

8. March In Place

“Anger is a natural emotion and it’s often a mask for fear. To calm down, visualize yourself in a safe calm space or march in place. You can even go for a walk. Marching and walking can open your brain which typically closes down when you are angry.” — Brittany A Johnson, LMHC

9. Realize You Can Choose To Not Be Angry

“First we must have awareness of our anger or other upset in the moment and realize that we can choose to feel differently, even though it may take some time. Once we develop the awareness of our reactivity in the present, anger and any other way it expresses itself,‎ and even while we are working on developing it, we can realize that we are making a choice about how to react. To respond to someone or something with anger and vengeance is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person.” — Roselyn G. Smith, PhD

10. Listen To Calming Music

“Play music in your headphones. When angry, it can be helpful if we tune in with ourselves. The key is that you listen to calming music rather than tunes that rile you up even more.” — Lauren Cook, MMFT.

11. Take Stock of What’s Around You

“Grounding exercises are a helpful meditation technique in which you scan yourself and the room for 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you touch, 2 you smell and 1 you taste. Some easy puzzles like “find 5 blue things in this room” are helpful to shift our brain out of blind rage and into a more cognitive place.” — Carrie Krawiec, LMFT

12. Go For a Walk

“Anger often begins manifesting physically. You might start feeling hot or begin to shake. Taking a walk can respond to the physical cues of anger with physical activity. It also removes the individual from the anger inducing situation.” — Michael Bernstein, MA, LPC

13. Plan Ahead

“The first thing to recognize is that once anger is activated, you can’t think clearly to make good decisions. No one can. So you have to make those decisions in advance and think to yourself: When this happens, then I’ll do that. For example: “When I start feeling angry at my wife, then I’ll tell her I need a time-out and go for a walk around the block.” You want to plan ahead to remove yourself from the situation where you know you’ll make bad decisions.” — David Godot, Psy.D.

14. Examine What’s Behind The Emotion

“Anger is not the first emotion you felt. Take an internal look at what initial feeling triggered your anger. It was likely something like fear, embarrassment, jealousy, disappointment, or sadness. Anger is a secondary emotion trying to counteract the primary emotion that made you feel weak. Think about what the anger is trying to do for you. It probably has good intentions and a lot to do with gaining or regaining control. Is there a way to get this job done while staying in control and keeping your honor, dignity, and self-respect? These are things that anger can sometimes trample while actually trying to defend. The answer is most likely yes yes, and it includes being gentle with yourself.” — Lisa Choquette, LPC, CFP

15. Remind Yourself You Can Survive This Feeling

“Calm the thoughts that are leading to the angry feelings. Many times, anger stems from beliefs that you shouldn’t ever have to be frustrated, inconvenienced, or annoyed. These are all a part of life though, so it’s helpful to remind yourself of something like: ‘I can feel annoyed and remain calm,’ or, ‘This is inconvenient, but I can breathe slowly and calmly and get through it,’ or, ‘This situation stinks, but I can still be kind.’ — Tricia Andor, LPC

16. Focus On the Bright Side

Start thinking about how what just happened might turn out to be good. For example, I was furious that our condominium here decided the tenants were all going to fix our pipes. ‘How dare they force me to do what I don’t want to do in my house,’ I kept thinking. Then I started focusing on all the opportunities about the work, such as installing a shower instead of the bathtub I had, adding the LED lights I always dreamed, using the opportunity to discard my old stuff and get new furniture. And now I can’t wait to get that work done.” — Lucio Buffalmano, Dating, Relationship, Life Coach

17. Ask Yourself If This Situation Has Happened Before

“Most times when we’re angered, we are triggered from a past experience. Something reminds you of being scolded as a kid, berated by an ex, shamed by a boss. So a next-level skill for supporting your anger is to fully ride it out and take care of it. Remind yourself this very well might be an old hurt. Sounds therapist-y, I know, but it’s typically the crux of an anger response. Remind yourself you can protect yourself, you’ll be ok, and that whatever younger you experienced you survived and —hopefully — are wiser. Reflecting on our triggers can be the long-term help for our quick anger reactions.” — Brittany Bouffard, LCSW, Psychotherapist

18. Give Yourself a Timeline

“Usually one of the first actions to take when your blood is reaching its boiling point and anger is setting in is to remove yourself from the situation if possible. Then you can ask yourself if this will still be an issue in the next few moments, the next few days, or the next few years? If you can say no, then you are well on the way to finding a less angry you.” — Adina Mahalli, CMHC

19. Take a Moment to Reframe

“Make sure your thoughts are realistic and accurate. When we are angry, we have a tendency to speak in absolutes — always, never, all, nothing, everything — and more often than not, we end up ranting about things that aren’t true. Try reframing your thoughts into something more neutral or factual.” — Megan Cannon, LCSW

20. Imagine You Are Watching Yourself

“Try to imagine you are a fly on the wall watching yourself in the situation that is making you angry. Ask yourself: ‘Why might the other person be behaving in this way?’ Try to use this angle to give yourself some space and ask yourself what this new angle can teach you.” — Sarah Morris, Founder & Director, Brain Happy

21. Focus On The Physical Sensations

“Once you realize that you are feeling angry, notice where in your body the anger is being held. Is it a tightness in the heart, a constriction in the throat, or a tense or upset stomach?Focus your attention on that agitated area of the body by placing your hand on that area. Breath in and out of that area of the body for two to three minutes. Returning focus to that body part anytime your mind wanders. — Charlene Rymsha, LMSW and Holistic Lifestyle Coach

22. Pet Your Dog

“Interacting with a pet can have positive effects on both our mental and physical health. When we spend time with a pet, our brain releases oxytocin, the hormone responsible for our mood. Elevated levels of oxytocin are beneficial as they lower cortisol, the stress hormone, and increase our happiness and craving for social bonding. “— Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D

23. Disrupt Your Thought Process

“Use the ABC model from Rational-Emotive-Behavioral Therapy. A: what is Activating you? B: what is your Belief about that activator? C: what are the Consequences resulting from this belief? This quick technique allows you to “unplug” from absolutes about an activating person or event, and remain as neutral as possible. It’s about responding vs. reacting, or accepting vs. trying to be right.

It’s easier said than done, but this technique empowers one more rapidly than all the other useful tools of breathing, grounding, taking a walk, or writing out your thoughts.” — Dr. Nancy Irwin, Psychologist

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