How to avoid exploding with anger

By Geoff Harris

Health and job worries, curtailed liberties, hypocritical politicians… It is maybe no surprise that people seem to be getting more angry during the Covid 19 crisis.

Whether it’s shoppers getting impatient standing in queues, increased incidents of road rage or just losing your rag with some poor call-centre operative told to call 50 ‘leads’ a day, it seems our fuses have got (unsurprisingly) shorter over the last 18 months.

It’s fair to say that anger is one of the most destructive emotions, damaging relationships, causing lasting workplace resentments and sometimes leading to actual violence. As the American short story writer and humourist Ambrose Bierce noted, “speak when you are angry and you’ll make the best speech you will ever regret.”

Think about it – how many times have you really lost your rag, given somebody a tongue-lashing and not regretted it afterwards? There may have been a few times the fury was justified, but often you are left feeling diminished and ashamed – and that’s even before the consequences start to appear.

This blog isn’t about anger management, as that is a complex topic beyond our scope, nor an investigation into why your angry feelings arise; that’s a discussion between you and your therapist. What we will do, however, is come up with a few practical suggestions to help you next time to you feel the red mist rising and your mouth about to open and say something you’ll regret.

In the heat of the moment, distract yourself

People in stressful positions have tended to vent during the whole course of history, so this is not a recent thing. A timeless tip is to do something, ANYTHING, to distract you, just as you’re about to let rip. “Whenever you feel yourself getting angry, Caesar,” an early Stoic philosopher was said to have told the Emperor Augustus, “don’t say or do anything until you’ve repeated the 24 letters of the alphabet to yourself.”

Choose your battles

We’re not just talking about verbal conflict here. Many is the time I have sent an email that I subsequently regretted, again peppered with angry and intemperate language and incendiary accusations. Unless you are very quick with Google Mail, once the email is sent, it is sent, and there is nothing you can do.

As well as practicing the distraction techniques outlined above, consider whether it’s really worth starting a big fight over a minor issue or perceived slight.

Damaging, hurtful things can easily be said in anger, so be mindful; maybe some it’s things which are really bothering you – you didn’t sleep well, you’ve got money or relationship problems, the dog made a mess on your new carpet… Even if you are in the right, save your righteous anger for a bigger and more important issue where the stakes are much higher.

Would you rather be right, or…

Staying with this theme of righteous indignation, sometimes it’s better to just take it on the chin, even if you feel you are right, for the sake of something bigger. A marriage, the relationship with your kids or boss, and so on.

This is certainly NOT to say you should accept abuse, but maybe the next time your partner is giving you a hard time over something that really isn’t your fault, it might be more prudent to think “would I rather be right… or married?” Small conflicts can easily escalate into big ones, or feed into a bigger and more destructive narrative that doesn’t end well for all parties.


One of the big names in self-help at the moment is Vex King, who makes some interesting points about meditation and anger in his hit book, Good Vibes, Good Life. And the good news is, Vex isn’t saying you should join a temple or spend half the day chanting.

Vex King

“After a year of practicing (mediation) for 15 minutes a day, I noticed incredible changes within myself,” he writes. “Significantly, I found myself feeling angry less often – something that had troubled me in the past. My rage was absent during situations identical to earlier events that had provoked an intense, emotional response.” So if your temper is getting out of control in these tough times, sign up for an online meditation class or watch some YouTube videos to get you started.

Recognise anger as energy

Some people, let’s call them rage-a-holics, are literally addicted to the cathartic release that blowing their top brings. Yes, they feel better for a while but it’s often temporary, and a lot of damage can be caused by such emotional outbursts.

It’s way wiser to recognise that your hot temper is another manifestation of your natural energy, and put that to better use – if your boss has really got under your skin, maybe a lunchtime run or yoga session or pounding the punchbag in your home office is a wiser response than giving them a piece of your mind there and then. And if things continue to be bad, use that energy to find another job…

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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