What is anger management therapy, and could it be the answer to soothing our ‘rona rage?

Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic explains: “Following the events of the last year and a half, some people may be feeling a sense of anger, especially if they’ve seen an overhaul in their lives as a result.

But anger can alert us to something that needs to be addressed. Learning how to live with our anger – rather than trying to suppress it – can guide us towards living a life that’s more in line with our values.”

If you’re feeling angry right now, just know that you’re not alone. Given the events of the past 18 months (there has been a pandemic after all), we’d say it’s perfectly understandable to have some pent-up rage. In fact, it kind of makes sense.

As little pieces of normal life start creeping back into our day-to-day routines, we’re starting to process what’s actually going on out there. We’ve moved past the initial disbelief and shock of the pandemic, mentally worked our way through the pain and anxiety and now we’re moving onto the next stage of grief. Anger.

But we know that processing anger is easier said than done, and that is where anger management therapy comes in. It might sound extreme, but in reality it could be the sort of thing we could benefit from right now. This is everything you should know…

What is anger management therapy?

Rest assured that it doesn’t involve smashing plates, screaming into an empty room or boxing a punch bag. Isabel Clarke, consultant clinical psychologist at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and author of How to Deal With Anger says: “The most generally available (and researched) form of anger management applies cognitive behavioural therapy to the problem. It encourages people to look again at the situation that sparked their anger, look at their psychical reactions and how they are thinking about it, consider whether that is reasonable and ask if there is a better way of dealing with it.”

What does it entail?

“It is often delivered in groups, but can be one to one,” says Isabel. The therapy works to help understand your anger and triggers, as well as build techniques to manage anger in a more effective and productive way.

OK, but how do I know if I need it?

If you are feeling uneasy with your anger levels, it might be time to speak to your GP about possible options. “A good indication that it might be time to seek appropriate support is if your anger is starting to interfere with your day-to-day life and relationships,” says Dr Touroni.

Although, Isabel warns that specific forms of CBT relating to anger management may be trickier to come by on the NHS at the moment. “Because anger management does not attract a diagnosis, it is generally no longer offered by Mental Health Services,” she says. An appointment with your GP should allow you to find out what services are available.

However, if you sense that you’ve got a shorter fuse than normal but don’t think it warrants therapy, Isabel has some temper-taming tips that you can try at home:

  • Become aware of the signs. “Notice the tension rising. Ask yourself what happens first. Are you finger tapping, is your stomach uncomfortable or do you have a tight feeling in your head, perhaps?”
  • Work on your breathing. “Breathe long, slow outbreaths and relax. This switches the body out of action mode.”
  • Check your thinking. “Notice any ‘shoulds’, ‘musts’, ‘oughts’, ‘always’, ‘nevers’ and ‘it’s not fairs’. You could be right but dwelling on it will only keep you wound up. Let it go. It’s not that important.”

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