You find yourself stuck in traffic when a hasty driver cuts you off. Before you know it, your blood pressure has spiked and you impulsively yell an obscenity out the window.
This kind of scenario happens to everyone at some point. Frequent outbursts that escalate quickly, though, may be a sign that you’re dealing with a short temper.
You’re probably at least somewhat aware of how your short temper affects those around you. But being quick to anger can also affect you in surprising ways and take a toll on your health.
Fortunately, short tempers don’t have to be long-lived.
The first step in managing a short temper is learning to recognize the symptoms. These anger episodes generally come on with little to no warning.
They tend to have symptoms that are both physical and psychological, such as:
- rage in the form of yelling and shouting
- chronic irritability
- heart palpitations
- racing thoughts
- loss of control
A short temper can impact you in a range of ways. According to one
Uncontrolled anger also triggers our body’s fight-or-flight response, which includes the release of stress hormones.
This frequent flood of stress hormones can eventually cause long-term health problems including:
- high blood pressure
- headaches and stomach problems
- heart attack
Holding on to anger quickly drains your energy and can make everything in your life seem bleak.
The following strategies can help you get a better handle on your temper.
Incorporating mindfulness into your regular routine can help you better understand and control the reactivity that often drives a short temper.
The next time you feel your temper rising, try this exercise:
- Find a quiet room and a comfortable place to sit.
- Close your eyes and notice the physical sensation of anger travel through your body, whether it’s through your rapid heart rate or your clenched jaw.
- Inhale deeply and allow all thoughts of anger to release as you exhale.
- Repeat 2 to 3 times per day or whenever you start to feel anger arise.
Refocus your energy
Come up with some concrete strategies for dealing with situations that you know will trigger your temper.
If you know your daily commute tends to set you off, for example, set aside some time to focus on alternative options. Waking up earlier to catch an emptier train or carpooling with a coworker might make all the difference.
Even if it doesn’t resolve the situation immediately, turning your attention to problem-solving can give you a greater sense of control and keep you from blowing up.
When you start to feel your blood boil, work it off with an exercise session. Go out for a quick run, play a sport that gets your heart pumping, or swim a few laps in the neighborhood pool.
Regular physical activity is an effective way of increasing self-control and immediately calming your mind and body.
Use a daily mood chart
Track episodes of anger and irritability by keeping a daily record of your moods. You can do this in a notebook or even download one of the countless mood-tracking apps available for your phone.
To get an extra clear picture of your moods, try to also take note of your intake of caffeine or other substances, quality of sleep, stressful situations or conversations, and any underlying emotions like fear or disappointment.
A short temper can also be a sign of an underlying condition like depression or intermittent explosive disorder (IED), which is characterized by impulsive and aggressive behavior.
If your anger has become overwhelming or is causing you to hurt yourself or those around you, it’s time to find professional help.
Here are some signs to watch for:
- physical violence, like slapping, pushing, or shoving
- punching walls, breaking plates, or damaging property
- assault or domestic violence
- self-harm or thoughts of suicide
Reaching out to a mental health expert can provide the right treatment and help you find ways of managing explosive anger. A psychiatrist may also recommend medication for anxiety or depression.
If you’re with someone who is expressing anger by becoming violent or abusive, your safety may be at risk. Remove yourself from the situation. Protecting your own safety is your first priority. Reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800−799−7233 for extra support.
Having a temper from time to time is a normal part of being human. When anger comes on at the drop of a pin, though, it can cause chaos in your relationships, health, and overall well-being.
Cindy Lamothe is a freelance journalist based in Guatemala. She writes often about the intersections between health, wellness, and the science of human behavior. She’s written for The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, Quartz, The Washington Post, and many more. Find her at cindylamothe.com.