By Scott Hendrickson, LCPC

Have you ever been told that you are an angry person? Perhaps this wasn’t anything that you didn’t already know and actually were a little hurt (or angry) that you are constantly reminded of your faults.

Stay tuned—here is some insight that can help you reduce your anger.

One question for you though:

Do you have anxiety? Anxiety here is simply an umbrella term that could include insecurity, worry or fear. Anxiety very quickly leads to angry feelings. In my experience many chronically angry people have underlying fear or worry. If you think about it from a purely physiological standpoint, the physical symptoms of anxiety and anger are nearly identical. When you are very anxious you can have tension in your face, neck, shoulders, stomach, back or more. Your face gets red, palms get sweaty and your fingers and toes start to feel like they are falling asleep or a hundred little pin sticks and your heart feels like it is going to beat itself out of your chest (at its worst). Guess what anger feels like.

This is that old fight or flight response to fear only without the flight. When you are perpetually anxious, it only makes sense that you begin to feel perpetually angry. If your angry feelings are rooted in anxiety, it’s important to treat your anxiety.

I was talking to a friend the other day who lives in Colorado only five miles from the fires that burned over 500 homes. In fact—true story—I happened to call him when he and his family were packing their van getting ready to evacuate their neighborhood. Of course, we decided to talk later when everyone was safe. As we were chatting a few days later, he pointed me to this video showing how firefighters save a house. It was dramatic but a great illustration of how to begin to treat anxiety.

The firefighters first created a boundary around the house by digging a small dirt path separating the house from the surrounding property. The property was full of trees and pine needles—lots of fuel for the fire. I would have run around trying to put the fire out with my garden hose. These firefighters stood at the boundary and let the fire essentially blow right by the house. They only addressed the flames close but earlier had removed any of the potential fuel (lawn furniture, toys, garbage, firewood, etc.) to a safe place from the fire. Amazing picture! The fire burned all of the grass and passed through without damage to this particular house. The boundary was effective and because the firefighters didn’t go off trying to put out the flames outside the boundary, they had enough resources (water, energy, strength, etc.) to protect the house.

Here’s my point. When we spend all of our resources trying to put out fires outside healthier boundaries, we run out of the necessary resources to stay safe (and cool). When you are anxious, you try to control as many aspects of your life (and others' lives) as you can. The problem here is that it’s more than you can actually control and then while trying harder to control more, you begin to feel frustrated and angry all while actually losing it (self-control that is). Can I encourage you to make an honest assessment of your boundary? Here are some things that tend to fuel our anxiety AND our anger:

Managing other people’s feelings and opinions. People, including our own children, spouses, and other family members or friends are going to have their own feelings and opinions. Because they are angry (or anxious) doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be about you—even if they say it is about you. I heard a long time ago (and I believe it) that 90 percent of how someone reacts to you or others is about their own issues. Of course the same is true about you so the key is to focus on your 90 percent. It is also possible that their opinion might have some useful nuggets of instruction or insight for you even if it is not all completely accurate. Give the people around you the freedom to emote and opine as they wish. We are all deeply feeling and opinionated people. Some people merely express more openly and this is good. Let go of this control in your life. In fact, the more you cross these types of boundaries, the more you will fuel your own anxiety and anger.

Assessing other’s motivations is a twin sibling to this point. Have you ever caught yourself being angry because you were convinced someone acted a certain way for a reason you didn’t like? Think about this for a moment. Spend a week making a mental note every time you catch yourself reacting to what you believe someone’s motives are. Aside from the fact that you cannot control another person’s motives (therefore a pointless exercise), you most likely are reading their minds through the distorted filter of your own insecure or anxious 90 percent. Call the fire department!

Overmanaging your own household (perhaps obsessively). I love a spotless house with everything in its place. However when there are other people living with you, it is impossible to control everyone enough to keep the house clean and organized enough to tame your anxiety. Manage what you can but within limits. You might need to read a good parenting book to have more effective limits for your children or you might need to put down the sword (or frying pan) in order to establish more peaceful conversations with your spouse, but your attempts to control so many aspects of their lives will only add more fuel to your red hot anger. Ask yourself, what is more important to you? A pristine house running on perfect military time or better relationships that eventually could help you relax and experience a level of contentment.

Anxiety can be paralyzing and there are times when the single best thing to do is not to fight or flight but simply to wait until it passes. Focus your thoughts on non-anxiety producing topics (your happy place?). Seriously, check your pulse, notice your breathing and wait until your pulse slows a bit and your breathing is a little deeper and methodical. Inhale so your stomach rises not your chest (breath in deeply) and then exhale sloooowly (10 to 20 seconds). Trust me on this…doing more, controlling more, escalating your thoughts more will only lead to more anxiety and anger.

The apostle Paul admitted he had anxiety and gave wise advice. Here are a few of his insights and teachings: Pray over your anxieties, give thanks and then focus on what is excellent (Philippians 4). Paul wisely knows that our prayers should not obsess on our anxieties but should move to thanksgiving and better things. Be devoted to one another in love. (Romans 12) Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs nor does it control others (1 Corinthians 13). Self-control is a fruit of the spirit so be filled with the spirit (Galatians 5). If your enemy is hungry, feed him…overcome evil with good (Romans 12).

Oh yeah, Paul also knew that our anger can be destructive so resolve it quickly. Speak the truth in love (not harshly) to promote honest, peaceful relationships (Ephesians).

Finally, what I am talking about here is a process that will help you reduce your anxiety and anger over time. Begin today and you will have better days, but also days when you will feel like a failure. Go back to waiting and resist the temptation to go back to controlling and excessive escalating thoughts. ‘Over time’ is a serious point to remember. Don’t forget to ask for help when needed. It took several firefighters to manage a blaze.