“In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, for anger gives the devil a foothold. ” - Ephesians 4:26
Let’s talk about anger! It can be a crazy intense emotion that can quickly turn into resentment if left unchecked. Yet, everyone gets angry from time to time- even Jesus! Scripture teaches us to deal with our anger in appropriate ways, so it doesn’t lead to sinful actions. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Inside Out,” you may have learned that each of our emotions serve a very important purpose. We are the healthiest when we can manage and balance all of our emotions in harmony. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially with an emotion as strong as anger. But how do we do that when anger takes control of our bodies?
When considering how to cope with emotions, I look at 3 areas to understand what is going on:
What happens to our body when we are angry? Our body gets flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. Our face gets hot, our palms sweaty, and our mind feels like it’s shut off from anything but the anger. Our heart races, breathing changes, and muscles tense up. Our body goes into “fight” mode.
What is anger communicating? Anger is trying to tell you something very important. Anger sits at the control panel and shouts, “I am unsafe! Someone has crossed my boundaries! This is unfair!” This is why your body responds so intensely when anger hits - it’s trying to protect us! We must feel anger, because without anger, there is no justice. Without anger, the playground bully would never be stopped. Without anger, the cheating and lying money lenders would have continued abusing the poor and the foreigner in the temple (remember Jesus flipping those tables?!). Anger gives us the energy to fight back, to defend ourselves and the oppressed, or to set things right. For some people, anger steps out in front of other emotions because it feels safer to feel angry than scared, vulnerable, or ashamed.
What do we need when angry? Once we know that anger is trying to draw attention to something that is unfair, unjust, or unsafe, we can understand how to solve the problem. Anger communicates a need for protection, boundaries, justice, and ultimately, forgiveness (sometimes in that order!). When we are angry, we need to get ourselves safe - both emotionally and physically - through the communication and reinforcement of boundaries. If applicable and possible, we need justice - whatever has gone wrong needs to be righted. Sometimes this means the mistake is corrected, sometimes this means working through our justice system, and sometimes it means releasing justice to the Lord to enact in his own way, completely apart from us. And then for anger to ultimately fade, we eventually need to learn to forgive the offender - to let go of any potential desire for vengeance.
So in light of these above observations, what can we do to cope with anger? Here are some of my favorite ideas:
Calm down your body before all else. Use healthy distress tolerance skills like these:
Adjust your body temperature - take a cold shower, or hold an ice pack over your eyes. This will lower your heart rate and help you chill out.
Regulate your breathing - practice any of your favorite deep breathing skills. Focus on slowing down your exhale until you feel more in control of your body.
Exercise or move your body - this will help release some of the tension and built up energy. Go for a run, do some jumping jacks, or pace around your house.
Journal and/or pray through what you need and how to communicate this. Sometimes you can meet these needs through effective communication, other times we have to ask the Lord to bring justice in his own time.
Communicate and reinforce boundaries (if it is safe to do so), in order to protect yourself and your relationships in the future.
If anger is something you struggle to manage, know that you are not alone! Your body is just trying to do its job of protecting and defending. If this emotion seems to run your life, reach out to us at Impact - we exist to help you learn to cope and manage emotions in a balanced and God honoring way!
Mikayla Bugh, LPC