Anger management for healthy aging

Learn to control anger for better relationships and better health.

What is anger?

Anger is a normal and necessary emotion. It is usually a sign that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Most people feel angry at least once a day. Some people feel anger more often than others. Some people have stronger reactions to their anger than others. The reality is everyone gets angry.

Is anger bad for me?

While feeling angry isn’t bad for you, how you express it or repress it can have negative effects on your relationships and your physical and emotional well-being. However, learning to deal with anger in a positive way can improve your life in many ways.

Some people express anger by holding it in. This is sometimes called suppressed anger. If people are uncomfortable dealing with angry feelings or think that getting angry is wrong, they may choose to just hold it in and hope it will go away. But anger doesn’t just go away. Suppressed anger can make you sick. People who suppress anger find they have more symptoms of headaches, stomachaches, sore muscles, ulcers, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and depression.

Some people express anger by using open hostility, yelling and physical violence. This type of anger expression leads to more anger and resentment, not less. There are no good outcomes from expressing anger in this way. It breaks down relationships, trust, respect and may even be against the law. 

Other people express their anger in indirect ways. They are uncomfortable expressing anger and use subtle ways to let the other person know they are angry. They slam cupboard doors, burn dinner, arrive late to appointments and gossip about people behind their backs. This type of anger expression can have the same effects as suppressed anger, as well as break down relationships and trust, as with hostile expressions.

How can I express anger in a healthy way?

Learning to deal with anger in healthy ways is one of the best things you can do for your own physical and mental health. The key word here is learning. Anger expression is a learned behavior and you can always learn new ways to do things. It does take conscious, everyday effort though.

First, you can learn what triggers your anger. Keep an anger journal for a week or two. Every time you feel those anger urges, write down what happened, when, why and how you reacted.

Next, find some quick ways to calm down when you feel anger urges. Take deep breaths, tell yourself to relax and think about what to say or do before you act on anything. It is better to lose a minute of your life than to lose your life in a minute.

Now that you feel calmer, you can start a conversation about why you are upset. It helps to start out with “I” statements. For example, “I feel angry when the dishes are left in the sink because the food gets dried on and it is really hard to clean them. What I need is for you to please remember to rinse your dishes before you put them in the sink.” This is a healthier way to express your anger because you are genuinely letting someone know how you feel, what you think and what you need, without being insulting, blaming or mean.

How can I learn more?

There are many other techniques for positive anger expression that can lead to improved relationships and better physical and mental health. Michigan State University Extension has a fun and interactive series called RELAX: Alternatives to Anger. Topics include learning anger triggers, calming down and de-stressing, problem solving techniques, forgiving and letting go of the past. It is even offered online. For more information or to find a class near you visit www.msue.msu.edu.

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