About to Boil Over? 3 Keys to Cooling Your Anger

Here are the three keys to getting control of anger when you're in a tight spot:
01/27/2016 12:01 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2017

Anger is a complicated emotion, and we've all had moments when it's gotten the best of us. Sometimes, it comes on so fast and strong that it overwhelms us--throwing calm, rational behavior out the window. Other times, we may explode in anger when the situation doesn't warrant it, making already tense moments even more stressful.

We can't permanently erase anger -- and we wouldn't want to. It's a natural part of the full spectrum human emotion, and it can give us the energy to stand up for ourselves when we've been slighted or treated less than kindly. However, we can take the resilient approach to dealing with this complex emotion, as opposed to being controlled by it. It's all about learning to recognize the symptoms of oncoming anger and, instead of lashing out, using the energy anger produces to help us find a solution to the problem at hand.

Here are the three keys to getting control of anger when you're in a tight spot:

1. Look for patterns
By paying attention to your habits and patterns, you can learn to recognize the early warning signs for your anger. The next time you think you're about to snap, step back and notice what's happening in your body. Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders tight? Are you taking shallow breaths?

When you take a moment to observe your anger, you can get distance from the immediacy of the emotion, which gives you a chance to examine the truth of the situation at hand.

2. Find the source
Ask yourself, what's the thought behind this anger? Pay attention to the thought feed that runs in the back of your mind. For example, "I don't believe this!," "This is so unfair!," and other thoughts where you feel your rights have been violated are common triggers for anger.

Once you've got that thought in focus, put it on trial. Is it telling the truth? Is your co-worker really stealing your thunder? Is your boss really ignoring your accomplishments? Does your spouse really leave the wet dishtowel on the counter on purpose just to drive you crazy? Getting some perspective can help you approach the issue with a clear, calm mind.

3. Take action
Your anger may simply melt away as soon as you discover that you're jumping to conclusions. Or, you might discover that the anger is cluing you into a real problem that needs your attention. If the issue is at work, perhaps you need to find a colleague or manager to help you. If the issue is at home, you might need to spend some quality time with your spouse that has nothing to do with chores.

When anger isn't driving you, you can actually get a much clearer view of what you need and find productive ways to achieve it. Flag the symptoms, challenge the thoughts, and clarify what you really need. Make anger your copilot, not your enemy.