Customer service just put you on hold for the third time, and the reaction is quick: You feel that familiar heat welling in your chest and a surge of electricity behind your eyes. After a few more minutes of simmering, the customer service rep finally gets back on the phone. Like lightning, the anger cracks through you.
Later, you’ll replay the moment in your head, trying to make sense of why you reacted that way. You’ll barely remember what you yelled, but you’ll feel a deep pang of regret, knowing the rep was just doing their job.
While getting angry is a common part of being human, folks with a “short temper” tend to have a harder time controlling their anger, which results in frequent outbursts.
Just because you’ve always had a short fuse doesn’t mean you can’t change. While a 2010 study linked having a short temper to long-term health issues, it’s also totally possible to manage.
Below, we’ll talk about what having a short temper actually means as well as strategies for redirecting that rage energy so that it has less of an effect on your life.
Short temper isn’t a diagnosis. It’s more of a characteristic or habit. Think of it as a concentration of misdirected energy. But because it’s not a specific condition and it appears so suddenly, it can be tougher to nip in the bud.
Here are some ways people with a short temper act and feel:
|screaming and shouting||feeling out of control|
|shortness of breath||frustration|
|racing heartbeat||oversensitivity, easy irritability|
|blurred vision||embarrassment, shame, regret (after the fact)|
|increased blood pressure|
Sometimes it might even come out in the form of crying (at work, no less). Because crying isn’t often associated with anger, it can be easy to dismiss quick tears as something unrelated to temper.
And believe it or not, these feelings may also be signs of depression and/or anxiety.
You might not think of temper as being related to conditions commonly associated with “sadness,” but when outbursts are unpredictable or seemingly have no cause, it might be a sign you need to dig deeper (with a pro).
Rather than trying to eliminate a short temper altogether, it’s best to center your strategy on redirecting all that chaotic anger energy. This starts with understanding your temper and being able to see it coming.
For long-term improvement, try mood tracking. This is a technique that can help you catch burgeoning anger before it erupts. We love using a bullet journal for this, but you can do it with any old journal, simply keeping a daily record of your moods.
Since moods change throughout the day, try writing down entries every time you feel a notable shift. Or download one of the many mood-tracking apps to your phone.
Once you have a grip on any patterns related to your outbursts, you can take action to direct that energy elsewhere.
Immediate ways of coping
- Do some cardio. When you feel the heat start to rise and your heartbeat quicken, stop what you’re doing and move your body. Go for a run or do 50 jumping jacks in your living room.
- Scream into a pillow. Talk about catharsis. Most of us have neighbors, so finding a way to muffle your rage scream is advisable.
- Take a cold shower. A 2010 study found that cold-water immersion redirects your stress from whatever’s making you angry to whatever’s making you cold. Tricky and effective.
- Breathe. If you can recognize your triggers, you may be able to breathe yourself into a state of calm. Here are six breathing techniques worth adding to your anger toolbelt.
- Apologize, if necessary. A sincere apology includes ways you see yourself improving, such as “I won’t raise my voice because I know it scares you.” Being able to redirect yourself in the moment can help you catch yourself next time.
Lifestyle changes to help with short temper
- Practice mindfulness. Meditation is a real thing, folks. One study showed that a daily mindfulness routine helped people feel more in control of their emotions and less aggressive to begin with.
- Plan around your triggers. If you know spending too much time with your family is a recipe for disaster, get an Airbnb when you visit instead of staying with them. Take the scenic route to work instead of the freeway. You get the picture.
- Go easy on the caffeine. For some, this may mean quitting altogether. Caffeine is super stimulating and can make you more on edge.
Everyone gets angry — it’s just part of being alive. Biologically, anger actually helps us survive because it’s a way we respond to threats.
One common anger trigger is the feeling of not being in control of your situation — which, if you think about it, is actually quite threatening. Not being in control means you can’t control the outcome. Not controlling the outcome could easily mean your physical or emotional demise.
So even though that conversation with the customer service rep wasn’t life threatening, the out-of-control feeling of being put on hold for a third time triggered an aggressive reaction.
Another characteristic of anger, and especially angry outbursts, is the sense of urgency that comes along with it. The part of you that’s being triggered also believes that the threat is imminent. Survival depends on acting now.
Anyone with a short temper knows that not being in control of your anger is a recipe for relational issues. People don’t like to be yelled at. They also don’t like worrying that something they do might trigger an angry outburst.
In turn, erupting on people makes you feel all sorts of negative feelings like guilt, regret, and maybe even sadness and isolation.
Intense anger can also be super disruptive. It’s all-encompassing, making it pretty tough to focus on anything else, so your overall productivity takes a hit, possibly worsening your stress.
Don’t be shy about apologizing when necessary. Anger is relatable, and many people will understand if you own it honestly.
You don’t have to apologize for how you felt at the time (your feelings are valid). But you should apologize if your outbursts have caused your words or actions to negatively affect or hurt someone else.
Does this mean something’s wrong with me?
People with a short temper often get a bad rap, but the truth is that it doesn’t make you a mean or bad person. It’s simply the way your brain was built to react. While this isn’t meant to excuse your behavior (you’re singularly responsible for how you act), you also shouldn’t get bogged down by feelings of guilt or sadness.
Being quick to anger also doesn’t mean you’re never happy. Short temper doesn’t define your whole emotional world, it’s just a piece of it.
If your anger tendencies are affecting your work or causing rifts in your personal life, those are good indicators that it’s time to talk with someone.
Talking with a doctor or mental health professional doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In fact, it may mean you’re taking an important step toward understanding your temper and ultimately feeling more in control of your life.
Many experts believe anger expression is a genetic trait, which means not only that it’s not “your fault” but also that overcoming it may require professional guidance.
That being said, having a short temper can be a symptom of a variety of health issues like depression, ADHD, and intermittent explosive disorder. If you think you might have an underlying mental health condition, talk to a professional who can help you set up a treatment plan.
Look for a therapist who is experienced with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or look for an anger management support group in your area.
Ginger Wojcik is an assistant editor at Greatist. Follow more of her work on Medium or on Twitter.