Tamping down a hot temper

We’ve all felt it — an anger that begins to bubble up inside us during an argument, after a broken promise, or maybe as a result of someone’s rude or thoughtless words or actions.

The problem is if anger occurs frequently or intensifies into rage. In those cases, experts say, you might take a few deep breaths and consider a few tips to keep that temper under control. Otherwise, you could be damaging your health.

  • Is it an underlying illness? Frequent feelings of aggression might stem from post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, or some other illness. If you suspect that your temper problems may be caused by another condition, see your healthcare provider.
  • Be assertive, not aggressive. If you feel angry over a disagreement with someone, the best way to express it is by sharing your feelings in a respectful way. That can be healthier than holding it in. People who suppress their feelings are more likely to develop passive-aggressive behavior and depression, as well as physical ailments like high blood pressure. Stay calm and refrain from behaviors such as yelling. It make you feel better in the short term, but it actually increases anger rather than relieves it.
  • Identify and avoid your triggers. If you know that bumper-to-bumper traffic stresses you out, try to drive before or after rush hour. If you’re cranky first thing in the morning, don’t start stressful conversations with your spouse until you’ve had your morning coffee. Of course, you can’t avoid every trigger, but recognizing and steering clear of the controllable ones can go a long way toward decreasing your anger and stress levels.
  • Learn to relax. A few tricks to cool your temper can come in handy the next time you feel yourself close to boiling over. Deep breathing, for example, is a simple technique that can be effective at diffusing anger. To do it, inhale slowly through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then exhale through your mouth. Visualizing a calm place, real or imaginary, can also help. Practice these techniques daily and they’ll feel more natural as time goes on.
  • Seek help. If calming yourself down isn’t working and no other cause can be found for your anger, sessions with a professional may help you learn better ways of coping. This kind of therapy can be done one-on-one or in a group situation. Most anger-management counseling focuses on controlling anger, conflict resolution, and other tools to help you keep your aggression from getting the better of you. Ask your primary health care provider for a referral to a therapist or group program.

And if you think you are going to become physically or emotionally violent, remove yourself from the situation.

For more information on this or other topics, visit University Health System’s Health Library.

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