Anger can be a major challenge for people recovering from addiction. The Big Book of AA even calls resentment–which is bottled up anger–the “number one offender.” Anger can cause you to alienate the people whose support you need to build a strong recovery. Anger can also take a toll on your mental health, causing you to ruminate and increasing your likelihood of experiencing depression and anxiety. Learning healthy ways to manage and even make constructive use of anger is essential to a strong recovery. Here are some suggestions.
The first skill to master is pausing when you feel yourself becoming angry. There are two ways that anger can become destructive. The first is if you become angry and act impulsively. You might lash out physically and hurt someone else or yourself. You might say something nasty you can’t take back later, or do something else you regret. Taking a moment when you feel anger rising up is not the same as bottling up your emotions. You still retain the right to tell someone how angry you are; you just want to be a little more in control of yourself when you do.
The fastest way to calm yourself down when you’re really furious is to take some slow, deep breaths. When you’re angry, your sympathetic nervous system–your “fight or flight” system–is firmly in control. You can’t shut it down by an act of will, but you can moderate it by breathing slowly. Studies show that deep breathing, particularly a long, slow exhale, stimulates the vagus nerve, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, counteracting the sympathetic nervous system. The result of a few long, slow exhales is that you feel a bit calmer and can think more clearly about what to do next.
Of the two ways anger can hurt you, the first is acting impulsively, and the second is bottling up the anger or pretending not to feel it. Carrying around unacknowledged anger raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol and can have negative effects ranging from depression to heart disease. Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge anger when you feel it. Anger, itself, is not bad. It’s a normal reaction to feeling mistreated or seeing someone else being mistreated. It can even be a positive thing if it spurs you to take effective action. Some people reflexively try to stifle or ignore their anger. This is especially true of people who have witnessed first-hand how destructive anger can be if it makes you act impulsively. However, ignoring anger doesn’t make it go away. It just hides and causes other problems.
Dealing constructively with anger often entails a confrontation, or at least a conversation. One way to make that conversation more productive is to avoid blaming, criticising, or condemning the other person. This is especially true if it’s someone close to you that plan to continue having some kind of relationship with. Don’t accuse the other person of being willfully malicious and don’t resort to name calling. Instead, focus on the facts and how you perceive them. For example, you might say something that takes the form of “When you said x, it made me feel y.” Also, be sure to confine your discussion to the present situation. Don’t drug up every past thing the other person did wrong or say things like “You always do this.”
Writing down whatever you’re angry about has several advantages. First, it gives you a feeling of control over whatever you’re angry about. Second, it gives you a bit of distance and helps you process it. When you see the whole issue on the page in front of you, it might give you a different perspective. Third, writing it down helps you better understand why you’re angry. We typically assume we know why we’re angry, but often that anger is displaced. Trying to find the real reason for your anger can help you resolve the issue.
Stress tends to accumulate and when you feel more stressed, you are quicker to anger. Keep your stress within normal levels by managing your schedule, prioritizing the most important tasks, getting regular exercise and adequate sleep, spending time with supportive friends, and doing something fun or relaxing every day.
Feeling hungry or tired makes us more prone to anger. They put stress on your body and your brain is less able to regulate your emotions. All problems seem like a much bigger deal when you’re tired or hungry. Instead of trying to resolve a problem in this state, have a bite to eat, get some rest and then see how things look to you.
When you’re angry, you might feel like your only priority is to express your anger but that’s not often constructive. Your anger may alert you to a problem but it has no idea how to solve it or even what it wants to happen. That will probably take some reflection on your part. Do you want your boss to respect you more? Do you want your partner to spend more time with you? Those goals are probably achievable but shouting won’t help.
When trying to solve any sort of interpersonal conflict, it’s important to try to see things from the other person’s perspective. A lot of anger has to do with the ego, asking “How could he do that to me?” In reality, most people aren’t out to get you; they’re just more preoccupied with themselves. Trying to see things from the other person’s perspective reduces your anger and helps you find ways to resolve conflict.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.
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