Woman screaming with mobile phone in her hand.

How you can learn to control outbursts of rage

Anger can quickly boil over in the heat of the moment and be expressed as loud shouting or aggressive behaviour. The individual handling of acute, negative feelings like these depends on the respective personality, upbringing experienced and social environment.

Fundamentally, anybody can learn to control their anger. There are helpful methods to regulate the negative cycle of outbursts of rage. Clinical psychologist Martina Hubner is often faced with this topic in her work with families and couples: “Up to a certain age children are not able to downregulate their feelings of anger at all. Adults need to demonstrate possible solutions for their child and exemplify how to react calmly and appropriately. Emotional regulation is something you have to learn. Adults are fundamentally not able to avoid experiencing anger and rage. Some external triggers can lead to a person feeling provoked or frustrated.”

An unpleasant event can trigger a chain of individually very different thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physical sensations. “But physiological changes occur before an outburst of rage and various behavioural reactions like frenzied movements, impulsive actions, shouting and slamming doors. Sweating, increased heart rate, increased muscle tension, changes in facial expression, breathing pattern and voice indicate a highly strained situation,” explains the psychologist. These early warning symptoms can be registered by the person affected themselves or their social environment. This provides an opportunity to break the unpleasant cycle. As soon as you notice physiological signs of being very tense, consciously pausing and giving the feeling space while observing it and accepting it is recommended: yes, that’s the thought that... Yes, that’s a feeling of anger and rage. Yes, that’s a feeling of pressure in my chest.

What is critical in this situation is a general slowing and a conscious direction of the attention. Focusing on breathing out more deeply and the five senses is particularly effective. Consciously feeling the ground under your feet, listening for sounds and looking at the colours or items in a room has a calming effect. The power of your imagination can contribute to calming you down too, for example imagining a safe place where you feel secure. “Don't intensify your anger through your thoughts, try to change your assessment of the situation that triggered the unpleasant circumstance,” says Hubner. The physical tension must be reduced, as the physical signals in turn act on the anger and intensify it. People who do sports can normally get rid of tension more quickly. Special physical exercises such as shaking your whole body can weaken or remove physical stress signals like shaking and a rapid heart rate.

In the next step it’s important to determine who or what triggered the strong emotion. You need to ask yourself: What exactly annoys me? What actually bothers me? Anger can fundamentally help you to understand yourself better.

If you want to talk to a specialist about your emotions and ways to regulate your emotions, you can contact one of the numerous Austrian family counselling centres.

Our interview partner

Dr Martina Hubner is a clinical psychologist and health psychologist. She has many years of experience of psychological counselling work with families and couples and works in family counselling at ifs-Bregenz, Vorarlberg.

ifs - Institut für Sozialdienste 
St.-Anna-Straße 2
6900 Bregenz
Website of ifs 

The interview was conducted in June 2023.

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