Tame Your Temper

About 63 percent of teens have had at least one anger attack, where they lost control, got violent, or destroyed property. 

Illustrations by John Ueland

There’s nothing wrong with feeling furious! But learning to control your inner Hulk can keep you from doing all sorts of stuff you’ll regret.

Oh, you’ve been there: Your parents are insisting you come home by 10, when everyone else can stay out until midnight. Your soccer coach keeps starting Little Miss Freshman—and benching you. And your ex is making it her mission to be attached to him whenever you’re within 50 yards. You’re angry, and who wouldn’t be? We all have days when we think we might straight-up explode. Everyone (even that soft-spoken clarinetist in your chem lab) feels it! 

That’s because anger is 101 percent normal—in fact, it’s rooted in the most primitive of survival mechanisms. When an animal is threatened by a vicious predator, it feels anger as a signal to fight to stay alive. But complex animals that we humans are, our highly evolved brains attach similar meaning to things that aren’t life-threatening but trigger an equally intense response. Once those wires get crossed, the spiral is swift: You’re ready to wrestle your best friend, for example, when a simple, “Hey man, not cool” would probably do the trick. 

And while there’s zero shame in getting mad—no one ever got into trouble for having angry thoughts—what you do about your rage makes all the difference. (Think about it: Scream at your parents? Grounded. Eye-roll at your teacher? Sent to detention.) So consider this your survival guide to making it through those moments when you’re on the brink of totally Hulking out. If you can pause, understand where your anger is coming from, and know what to do with it, your relationships—and your whole life—will benefit.

Step 1: Recognize Your Rage Response 

When you’re angry, your whole body reacts, and your furious feelings can go from zero to out-of-control before they even register in your brain! That’s why it’s crucial to pay attention to physical cues. Learn to recognize them on the spot and you’ll be better able to keep your anger in check.

  • Your face feels hot
  • Your fists clench
  • Your heart races
  • You might start sweating 

Step 2: Pause the Passion 

It can be impossible to make rational decisions when you’re revved up with rage! So once you’ve recognized that you’re mad, halt whatever you’re doing, which will stop your body’s rage response and get your brain back on track. Try one of these simple, science-backed tactics to freeze your feelings and calm your mind.

Come up for air. Take deep breaths, or close your eyes and count (to 10, to 100 . . . whatever it takes!). 

Squeeze-and-release. Tense a group of muscles and squeeze for 5 seconds. Then release and count to 10 while saying the word relax to yourself as you let go of all that pent-up tension! 

Distract yourself. Shift your focus to something pleasant (your dog, a funny video) to lift your spirits and give you perspective.


Step 3: Find a Release 

Once the heat of the moment is behind you, you may be able to move right on—some people can. But if you’re still shaken up, skip the strategies that will only make things worse and choose the course that will really help you work through your feelings and move forward.

• You may want to: Hit a pillow. You think: It’s better than hitting a wall or punching a person! But experts say: Violence doesn’t actually lessen your anger—it just redirects it. So try: Exercising! It triggers the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins. 

• You may want to: Rock out to fast, loud, angry songs. You think: Music that matches my mood is an easy way to express my feelings. But experts say: It will only keep you riled up. So try: Creating a playlist with soothing beats. 

• You may want to: Go on a Twitter or Instagram rant. You think: I’m getting it all out! But experts say: Don’t—your public outburst could last forever on the web. So try: Writing in a private journal. You can say whatever you want without hurting anyone else, then reflect on those feelings later


 

Reach Out 

If your angry thoughts are so intense that they’re interfering with your ability to have fun or concentrate, get help immediately. See your school counselor or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- TALK. (Their counselors are trained to help teens facing all kinds of mental-health issues.)


SPECIAL THANKS TO OUR EXPERTS: Mark Purcell, PsyD, psychologist and author of Mindfulness for Teen Anger; Emil Coccaro, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago; Kirby Deater-Deckard, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Virginia Tech; Jennifer Greif Green, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Education at Boston University; Julia V. Taylor, professional school counselor.

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