Expert advice on turning anger into motivation

Letting anger control your life can have devastating consequences. File image.

Letting anger control your life can have devastating consequences. File image.

Published Mar 5, 2024


Over the course of a lifetime, human beings experience a range of different emotions.

One of the most powerful among them is anger, which experts believe can be a highly destructive force or a powerful motivator, depending on how it's used.

Occupational therapist and the Centre of Psychotherapy Excellence (COPE) manager at Netcare Akeso Kenilworth, Kersha Singh, explained how this emotion can be channelled more constructively to become a superpower.

“Anger is a natural feeling that affects everyone and it is a normal emotion with a broad range of intensity, from mild irritation and frustration to rage and aggression,” she said.

“Getting angry may be in reaction to a perceived threat or pent-up frustration and it can be helpful to take note of what triggers your feelings of anger and try to identify the underlying cause.’

Singh added that anger can also be triggered in many spaces, such as when sitting in traffic or being at home with your family.

But she cautioned that if this emotion is not dealt with in a healthy way, it can have potentially devastating and life-changing consequences.

“If we allow anger to get out of control, it can cloud our thinking and judgement and may lead to irrational and destructive behaviours that can harm our relationships, health, work and ultimately our quality of life.”

The powerful emotion of anger have even seen the creation of the movie ‘Anger Management’, which stars Adam Sandler who plays a businessman who is wrongly sentenced to an anger-management program, where he meets an aggressive instructor. File image.

But not all hope is lost as the mental health expert said that it is not too late for adults to learn to control their anger.

“This can be a very empowering experience when instead of reacting angrily, we can learn to transform our approach to respond to the situation more positively.

“If we are willing to acknowledge our triggers, even if we cannot fully control them, we can learn how to cope more healthily.”

Singh stressed that the more that people are able to identify situations, environments and people that trigger angry feelings, the better they can manage these scenarios and learn to respond calmly and constructively in challenging situations.

“Anger management is a set of skills; if we practise, we get better at mastering it.”

She explained that the first step is often impulse control.

“Identifying that our anger is in response to specific triggers and what it is about the situation that consistently makes us feel this way is helpful towards managing the temporary distress, knowing it will pass.”

She also believes that with the right tools, it is possible to break the cycle of anger.

“There are very effective non-pharmaceutical ways of redirecting the emotion more productively and ultimately, more satisfyingly.”

Singh recommends the following short-term techniques to help reduce intense feelings such as anger.

“When something makes you angry, try to work towards responding rather than reacting to the situation. When we start to feel triggered or overwhelmed, STOP,” she said.

S – STOP. Pause, don’t react in the heat of the moment. Count to 10.

T – Take a step back. Remove yourself from the situation by taking a walk or bathroom break.

O – Observe. There is no need to respond when you feel overwhelmed; wait until you have a more objective perspective.

P – Proceed mindfully. Try deep breathing, in through your nose for the count of four, and out through your mouth more slowly.

She added that the physical feelings of being hot and flustered that come with being angry can exacerbate the perception of a situation, but that actively cooling the body temperature can help us feel better.

“Drinking cold water, splashing your face and wrists, having a cool shower, or stepping into an air conditioned room can all break the experience of feeling ‘hot under the collar’.”

She also recommended distracting yourself with a mental break, in cases when a situation is triggering angry feelings.

“Read a magazine, listen to relaxing music, play a game, or get absorbed in something creative.”

Singh also believes that intense exercise is an ideal way to let off steam.

“If you’re feeling annoyed with a loved one, try going for a run instead of reacting angrily.”

And if you find you are bringing home the anger from work-related stress, the mental health expert suggested stopping at the gym on your way home to release some of the day’s tension and frustrations.

“This can also improve the quality of your leisure time at home with your loved ones.”

In addition to these short-term strategies for responding better to anger, Singh also noted that it is important to address the underlying factors to resolve the source of our discomfort in the long term.

“Use the energy from that anger and redirect it to work towards creating a lasting solution, whether working towards building a different career that may reduce your stress or freeing yourself from a toxic relationship, for example.”