Anger is a strong emotion. Sometimes we go overboard with it, and yet, sometimes we don’t express it enough. Anger can be trickier for a person with bipolar. Having a diagnosis of any chronic illness usually carries some anger with it—anger that you have a label to deal with, anger at having to take medicine, anger at the stigma caused by misconceptions of society. What’s important is to not let angry feelings dictate your responses.
Here are five ways to stay in charge of your anger:
1 Slow down
The old strategy of counting to 10 has endured because it works. Anger is full of energy, gets your adrenaline going, and raises your heart rate and blood pressure. There is a strong urge to act immediately. But putting time in between whatever roused your anger and your response is a good thing. Counting to 10 (or 50 or 100) works well for some, but here’s another version of this: Think of a song or verse now that you will always use when you are angry in the moment. It could be a soothing refrain such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” or “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” Or you might prefer a more driving song, such as “I Will Survive” or the CSI theme song “Who Are You?” The important thing is to think of this now and have it ready for when you need to put space between your feeling and response.
2 Get physical
Therapists have often urged their clients to “pound your pillow.” It’s another technique that sounds too simple, yet actually often works. Releasing the physiological part of your anger can free you from anger’s grip and allow you to figure out what you want to do. If your body is revved up with the fire of anger, you’re not likely to make good decisions about how to handle the situation. Pounding a pillow may be exactly what you need, perhaps adding words that you wish you could say to the source of your anger. Some other exertion —a run or a brisk walk—could provide a similar release
3 Write a letter to the person or situation you’re angry at
This is a letter you will never send. Its purpose is to cool your feelings so that you can problem-solve what to do with your anger. In this letter, you can blame, you can accuse, you can write whatever you want. But this is not a letter you send. Of course, this letter might turn out to be the prelude to writing a more controlled and strategic letter that you actually would send.
4 Write a letter to yourself
You can be your best coach and supporter. It’s important that you recognize your anger and give it credibility. In this letter, be understanding of yourself and about what is making you angry. “I have a right to feel angry. My feelings matter. However, what do I want to do with this anger?”
5 Light a candle as a signal
Sometimes anger, specifically at a partner, can make you feel ridiculous and shameful. These secondary feelings can interfere severely with bringing up what you’re angry about. Lighting a candle, a special candle used only for this purpose, can be a message to your partner (mother, child, etc.) that you are angry about something but not quite ready to talk about it. Communicating this can avert an escalation, where the other person keeps saying, “What’s wrong?” which only serves to make you angrier. This candle can buy you some time.
I’m not suggesting that it’s easy to manage anger. But it is possible. Anger does not have to be a runaway horse you’re on.