It happens far too often that we let anger make us unhappy. We get caught up in the emotion, instead of investigating the trigger. But anger is merely the warning light on your dashboard of life.

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It doesn’t force you to feel a certain way – it lets you know that something is out of whack and needs to be fixed. Because of this anger is a powerful state, and you need to have the skills to manage it.

What is anger?

Anger is an emotionally-driven reaction to a situation or event. It comes in three different forms: passive, aggressive and constructive. Some people bottle it up and feel bad inside, many let it out in ways that are destructive to themselves and those around them, while others are able to use anger to make improvements in their lives.

Clinical psychologist Simon Crisp says your body will usually tell you when you are angry.

“The emotion manifests itself in physiological changes such as increased respiration and heart rate, muscle tension, sweating and flushing of the skin,” he says. “It can also reduce peripheral vision and the processing of auditory language.”

He says people experience anger in different ways.

“Some may experience a physical sensation, others more perceptual distortions, while some may only report changes in how they think when they’re angry.”

That said, anger only becomes a problem when it makes you unhappy.

The power of change

Anger doesn’t have to dictate our behaviour – it can be used to create positive changes. The raw emotion itself is powerful and clarifying as long as we choose to express it in a constructive way. When used with discipline and compassion, anger is the warrior’s sword that can cut away unhealthy aspects of your life.

In her book The Dance of Anger psychologist Harriet Lerner says, “Our anger may tell us that we are not addressing an important emotional issue, or that too much of our self is being compromised in a relationship. Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self.”

Crisp agrees that there is a place for anger: “It aids survival by preparing us to deal with a potential threat. It can also draw our attention to important issues that need our attention. Keeping control of anger can allow us to express our needs or concerns constructively and assertively, facilitating clear communication and effective problem solving.”

Uncover the cause Master success coach Julie Ashton admits it’s not always easy to find the true trigger of your anger.

“The best way to find the cause of the emotion is to identify the reflection within yourself that deals with how and when you do the same thing,” she says. “Take some time out to really analyse what has ticked you off.”

Crisp says learning to quickly identify the signs that you are getting angry will help make the emotion more manageable.

“It’s all about becoming familiar with which things make you angry,” he says. “Learning how to identify when we are angry and what makes us so is a most valuable life skill.”

Express yourself

We can liken our emotions to a beach ball. When it’s pushed down into a pool, the longer it is held down and the further beneath the water it is held, the bigger the explosive splash once it’s let go to burst through the surface of the water. It’s the same with emotions.

The longer emotions are suppressed the bigger the splash when they eventually catch up with us. Anger needs to be dealt with, otherwise it can lead to anxiety, stress and even disease. It is better to cry and release pent-up anger than it is to push it down and allow it to wreak havoc on the body.

Physical exertion can help clear your head of anger, or at least get you to a state where it is more manageable. Ashton says bottling it up only causes pain in the long-term.

“Cry, scream, exercise, laugh; do whatever you need to do to allow the anger to flow out of your body,” she says.

“You can only acknowledge that it is there and work out a constructive way to deal with it. The worst thing you can do is suppress anger as it can turn inwards, leaving you unhappy.”

Crisp says creative expression can be another way of unravelling what can feel like a confusing and angry mess.

“Art, music, dance or simply exercise or sport can help a person work through their anger.”

He says the way we decide to let off steam is vitally important to our health.

“Some people turn to alcohol or other drugs to numb the emotion, which unfortunately can quickly lead to losing all control over it. Bottled up anger can lead to violence and self-critical thinking.”

If you are angry with another person, it is important to express those feelings assertively rather than aggressively. Try using ‘I’ statements such as ‘I feel angry because’ as opposed to making assumptions about the other person’s feelings or reasons for their behaviour.

So next time you feel the fire within, remember that anger needn’t be a negative emotion – use its effects positively and your body will thank you.