A Therapist Poses 2 Questions To Anyone Who Has Been Struggling With Their Anger
Emotions, including anger, are a part of life. That doesn’t mean we are completely at their mercy.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | September 2, 2022
Many people come to therapy asking how they can better control their anger. They may say things like, "I've been so quick to fly off the handle lately; I don't know what's going on with me" or "I used to be such a relaxed person."
Here, I'll discuss two reasons why your anger levels might be elevated and what you can do to fix the problem.
#1. Have you been sticking to a regular sleep schedule?
I know you've heard it before, but there's no substitute for a good night's sleep.
Look at every culture around the world, from industrialized societies in the West to remote tribes in the South Pacific, and you'll find at least one thing in common: everyone sleeps. There's simply no way around it. It's the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth.
If you find yourself feeling irritable, angry, or overly sensitive, take a moment to reflect on how you have been sleeping over the past few weeks. Have you been waking up in the middle of the night? Have you been sleeping lightly? Have you experienced recurring bad dreams or nightmares? Do you have pain in your body that is keeping you up? Have you been looking at your phone late at night?
If so, this may explain your elevated anger response. When we miss out on our sleep, our minds and bodies don't have time to reset correctly. Masking the problem with stimulants such as caffeine may provide short-term relief but doesn't address the root issue, which can only be solved by getting more sleep.
You are probably aware of some of the things you can do to get a better night's sleep, but I'll mention them again:
- Exercise can be helpful, especially vigorous exercise. (That said, overexercising has been linked to insomnia.)
- Reducing screen time in favor of being outside can also improve sleep quality
- Having an evening wind-down routine can help, whether that's doing some light stretching and/or meditation before bed, journaling or sketching, or taking a relaxing bath.
- For people struggling with nightmares and/or bad dreams, sleeping with a comfort object can help. You may also try journaling your dreams and changing the negative endings to positive ones.
It's also important to know that your body has a way of taking care of you through life's inevitable patches of challenged sleep. Typically, our REM cycle (which is biologically important for a number of reasons) starts to occur after we've been asleep for at least a few hours. However, when we are sleep deprived, our body goes into REM sleep sooner to compensate for lost time.
Lastly, remember that it's okay to apologize for your uncharacteristic outbursts that may be caused by a lack of sleep. Perhaps you are unnecessarily short with a co-worker or family member. It never hurts to say sorry and to explain that you've been struggling with your sleep lately and that it's something you are working on. They've likely been in the same place at some point in their life and will be able to relate to what you're going through.
#2. Do you have the sensation that you are rushing through life?
Sometimes we feel like we know exactly where we want to be but, because we aren't there yet, we try to rush the process. This brings about a nagging sense of irritability and impatience — and can even lead to outbursts of anger. This can happen with any kind of goal we set for ourselves, such as progressing in our career or moving forward in a relationship.
If you find yourself feeling this way, it's important to do things that keep you tethered to the present. Mindfulness exercises can help. Doing things that shift your focus from your internal thoughts and sensations to external stimuli (i.e., playing sports, socializing, volunteering, etc.) can also help.
It's also important to know that even though you may feel like you know where you want to be in the future, our interests and ambitions change over time. What you think you may want now may not be the same thing five years from now, so there's no reason to drive yourself crazy over it in the present.
Emotions are information. They are trying to tell us something important about ourselves and our surroundings. It's up to you to listen. Think deeply about your experience with anger. Process it with a mental health professional. You may find it to be one of the most important signals in your life.