Controlling your anger can be an incredible struggle. Most parents have been there at least once. What seems to be a harmless conversation with your teen quickly spirals out of control. Suddenly harsh words are said, and your teen stomps out of the room before slamming the door, putting the punctuation on what is the end of a confusing and unintentionally angry conversation. It is difficult for adults and teens alike to control the emotions that accompany anger.
However, giving in to those emotions will often make the problem worse rather than providing any form of beneficial solution. For teens, learning and practicing anger management techniques can help them learn to express their anger in safer and healthier ways that can improve their ability to communicate and reduce the potential for regrettable angry outbursts.
What are the Stages of Anger?
Anger is the end result of a particular situation, circumstance, or confrontation. Anger is not, however, the root cause of what brings about unpleasant and painful emotions. Anger is closely associated with something called the fight or flight response in the human body. When someone perceives something that could be dangerous or upsetting, it triggers reactions throughout the body, including an elevated heart rate, tensing muscles, increased breathing, and a greater awareness of your surroundings. This occurs to protect ourselves from something that could cause us harm.
It also occurs with anger. Anger is a reflex to something unenjoyable. Although anger seems to be sudden, it is not. Again, it is the result of a growing cycle of events or experiences that eventually culminate in an aggressive or angry outburst. Mismanaged or misguided anger, especially for teens, can lead to a variety of poor decision-making and problem-solving challenges that inevitably cause problems at school, home, and with personal and social relationships.
Because the cycle of anger often spirals out of control so quickly, separating each stage of anger can be quite challenging. However, it is crucial to understand the phases of anger to be better able to manage and control them. The anger cycle is broken down into five primary phases or stages(although some sources reference 8 or more and others two or three).
Stage 1-The trigger phase
The first stage or phase of anger is the trigger phase. It is that event or situation that is the root cause of an angry outburst. A trigger is a particular factor that provokes a response. For someone with a substance use disorder, a trigger is something that reminds them of using or drinking and makes them want to do so again.
For someone with another type of behavioral addiction, a trigger is the person, place, or event that makes them want to engage in harmful or unhealthy activities. For someone with anger management challenges, a trigger is what provokes an angry response. Triggers are different for everyone. In general, no two people share the same anger trigger. During the trigger phase of anger, your teen perceives a threat and the fight or flight system within their brain and body prepares to respond to that threat.
Stage 2: The escalation phase
The next stage of anger is the escalation phase. During this stage, the physical presence of anger begins to show. You may notice your teen’s forehead wrinkling or their eyes widening. The pitch of their voice may change, and they may appear tense and guarded. Once someone reaches the second stage of anger, escalation, the chances of calming down begin to decrease. Again, because of the fight or flight mechanism, their body is already preparing for a potential crisis, and it becomes challenging to reverse those preparations.
Stage 3: Crisis phase
By the time someone reaches stage 3, their body and mind are fully prepared to react to a triggering event. At this point, they will decide how to respond to a perceived threat. Their ability to reason and rationalize their response is significantly reduced because anger has taken over. In the most severe cases, the crisis stage is also where someone may act aggressively, becoming a danger to themselves or others.
State 4: Recovery
The fourth stage of anger is recovery. Recovery begins after the crisis or action related to anger occurs. At this point, anger has mostly been released, and the body starts to settle back to “normal.” Unfortunately, this is also the stage where a conversation or other type of engagement with someone who is angry is the most precarious. It will not take much for another perceived trigger to revive angry feelings. The recovery stage often begins after hurtful and angry actions have occurred.
Stage 5: Depression
The fifth and, in most cases, final stage of anger is depression. This is perhaps the most unpleasant stage of anger because it occurs when teens (or adults) realize the depth of the harm that has occurred. They may try to analyze the trigger or the event bringing about feelings of regret, sadness, or even embarrassment.
Why It is Important to Understand Teen Anger
The teen years are challenging. The parts of the brain that involve judgment and decision-making skills are not fully developed throughout adolescence and young adulthood. In fact, these parts of the brain are not considered fully developed until around age 25. As a result, it can be difficult for teens to manage anger-producing triggers in healthy and effective ways.
Additionally, several social, emotional, and physical difficulties accompany adolescence. Teens sometimes struggle to feel accepted as part of social circles. Also, these are the years in which they are vying for independence, often leading to increased hostility and tensions at home.
However, not all anger is a healthy natural developmental response. Anger may also be a “secondary emotion” that masks other mental health conditions or emotional challenges such as shame, grief, or guilt. For example, a teen who is experiencing bullying at school may be embarrassed to share what they are going through. Therefore, they act out with rage and aggression instead.
Adolescents and teens who have experienced childhood trauma may also use anger to manage the pain and emotions that evolve from those experiences rather than facing their emotions head-on. In other cases, anger may also suggest an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, or a substance use disorder.
Anger Management Tips for Teens
How your teen deals with anger depends on several factors unique to their personality, temperament, and life experiences. These individual factors play a role in determining how quickly they respond to anger and the types of triggers that will cause angry outbursts. With help from parents and therapy providers like our team at Beachside Teen Treatment Center, your teen can develop and practice safer, more effective anger management tools that can support a healthy response to triggers throughout their lives.
A quick online search will provide many tips for controlling your anger. However, some suggestions tend to appear far more frequently than others. Below are a few examples.
Analyze why you are angry
Angry emotions can occur quickly. They may even happen when you’re not angry about a specific situation, person, or event. For example, some people find that they become irritable and quite upset when they’re hungry. Other emotions, such as fear, sadness, or worry, can mimic anger. Also, there are several levels of anger ranging from feeling mildly irritated about something to trembling with rage. When you feel anger welling up inside, take a moment to figure out why. Identifying the root causes of your emotions can help you react better in a beneficial way.
Try not to lash out
Sometimes it can be challenging to use the “right words” to say what’s on our minds. When anger sets in, it is often easier to be aggressive, rude, or accusatory rather than explain why we feel the way we do. Expressing emotions can be challenging, especially when the words don’t come easy. However, it is crucial to take the time to think about what you say to avoid saying things that are hurtful or things that you don’t necessarily mean.
Practice relaxation and self-care
If frequent anger is having a harmful effect on your physical health, it is essential to find ways to relax physically. Relaxation helps you to be more in control of your emotions and reduces the chances of hurtful outbursts. One form of relaxation or self-care your teen can use anywhere is mindfulness meditation. Meditation can be as simple as a minute or two of deep breathing to bring your breathing and heart rate down. It can also help you focus your thoughts away from anger. Other self-care tools may include reading a book, listening to music, or journaling about your emotions.
Getting Help with Controlling Your Anger at Beachside
If angry emotions and actions seem more common than moments of happiness and calm, it could indicate your teen could benefit from a mental health treatment program at Beachside. We will work with your family to take the first steps toward healing your family heal from the effects of long-term or uncontrolled anger. We will also work with your teen to help them better understand the issues (such as trauma, grief, or self-esteem problems) that may lie at the root of their anger.
Teen anger treatment looks different from person to person. Our providers understand the value and critical importance of individualized treatment plans as a part of your teen’s recovery journey. Let us help your teen learn how to understand and control their anger using safe and healthy anger management tools. To learn more about our California teen-focused anger management program, contact a member of our admissions team at Beachside today.