Helene Stoller

As the hot, humid days of summer sap our energy and most of the patience we normally possess, temper flare-ups and even rage attacks are more likely to occur. (Anger and rage are similar in that both are manifestations of angry feelings, but rage goes further by escalating the anger up a notch with a sense of helplessness.)

Presence of mind and emotional energy are required to keep these hot-headed emotions from interfering in our lives and damaging our relationships. When we are feeling uncomfortably hot, it’s all too easy to let loose on people we believe have wronged us in some way.

Anger is a normal, healthy emotion that signals us that we have been mistreated. Just like any other feeling, it shouldn’t be unnecessarily avoided or feared. It’s how anger is expressed that gives the emotion a “bad rap.”

Some people explode verbally or physically with anger, which frightens and intimidates others. Other people hold their anger in and punish those who anger them with the “silent treatment.” Name-calling, put-downs, slamming doors, threats, and sarcasm are some other common ways that anger is expressed.

None of these ways is very effective in communicating why we are angry and how we want the situation remedied. Moreover, these ways invariably shut down communication at best, and damage relationships, sometimes irreparably, at worst.

A more effective way of handling anger, so that it doesn’t get in the way of relationships but serves to clear the air, is to allow the anger wave to pass without trying to talk. Once calmness is restored, rational discussion of the issues can take place.

The high level of emotion that typically accompanies the feeling of anger precludes rational thought or conversation, so just let the emotion pass over and through you before attempting to discuss why you are angry.

To help “keep your cool” while the anger wave passes, take some slow, deep breaths, which act to not only slow down your respiration rate, but also your heart rate. Clarity of thought returns more quickly as well.

Only when you are calm, have collected your thoughts about why you are angry, how you want the problem resolved, and feel mentally and emotionally prepared to rationally discuss the situation should you engage in conversation about the problem that created your anger.

Otherwise, you could be making a bad situation worse by “opening mouth and inserting foot.” Other ways of dampening down the anger wave include counting to 10 (perhaps while breathing slowly and deeply), taking a time-out to leave the anger-provoking situation, and working the anger out of your body through aerobic exercise (e.g., walking or jogging around the block).

Most importantly, return and discuss the problem with the offending person when you feel calm enough to do so. Getting closure to the issue helps to ensure that your needs are understood and prevents similar situations from arising in the future.

By letting the person know that something is bothering you, allowing you to do something about it, well-handled anger can clear the air in relationships and increase relationship intimacy.

Helene Stoller, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist and owner of Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton. Helene.stoller@gmail.com, scpsychologist.com.