As we often hear from members of The Depression Project's community, there are many reasons why depression can make you feel angry. And, if you can relate, then in this blog post, we'd like to share with you a free excerpt from our "Depression Anger" Journal that includes three strategies you can implement to help you manage "depression anger".
Are you ready?
Strategy To Help You Manage "Depression Anger" #1: Physiological Strategies
An extremely useful collection of strategies that can really help to ease “depression anger” in the “heat of the moment” are physiological distress tolerance strategies. These work based on biological principles and physiological reflexes1, and aim to reduce the physical components of anger – such as, for example:
- Shallow breathing;
- Increased body temperature;
- Muscle tension;
- A rapidly beating heart.
In particular, you may find it worthwhile to implement one or more of the physiological strategies that we’re about to share with you when:
- You “observe” that you’re experiencing one or more physical symptoms of anger that these strategies can directly help to reduce;
- You “observe” that your “depression anger” feels too intense for you to be able to think clearly. In this case, implementing one or more physiological strategies can be extremely effective, because they do not require you to be able to “think clearly” in order to implement them1. Consequently, you may find them easier to implement than other strategies which, while effective in their own right, may require you to be able to think with more clarity in the “heat of the moment”. Additionally, when your “depression anger” is severely intense, even if a physiological strategy doesn’t completely relieve you of your “depression anger”, there’s a good chance that it will at least be able to bring it down to a more moderate or mild level – at which point, you’ll likely be able to think much more clearly and will therefore be in a better position to implement another strategy should you so choose.
With that being said, let’s now look at a handful of different physiological strategies which are proven to be effective.
Deep breathing can be a very effective strategy at helping you to reduce some of the physical sensations that are commonly associated with “depression anger”2 – such as shallow breathing3, muscle tension3, and an elevated heart rate . In practice, it can take the form of:
Deep Breathing Exercise #1:
- Lie down on your bed (or a flat surface), and put a pillow underneath your legs.
- Rest one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage (in order to allow yourself to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe).
- Breathe slowly and deeply in through your nose, and feel your stomach move out against your “lower hand” beneath your ribs. As you do this, your “upper hand” on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- As you exhale, tighten your stomach muscles, and breathe out through pursed lips until there’s nothing left. While you do this, once again ensure that your “upper hand” remains as still as possible.
Deep Breathing Exercise #2:
- If you prefer, you can simply try counting to four as you breathe in … and then counting to eight as you breathe out … and then counting to four as you breathe in … and then counting to eight as you breathe out … again and again for as long as you’d like.
Engage With A Cold Sensation
When you’re “depression angry” / getting “depression angry”, it’s common for your body to heat up – and consequently, engaging with a cold sensation can therefore help to offset this and “cool you down again”2. In particular, this could take the form of, for example:
- Holding an ice cube;
- Dunking your face in icy-cold water;
- Having a cold shower;
- Placing an ice pack between your shoulder blades or on your forehead;
- Wrapping your hands around an icy-cold drink.
In saying that, however, depending on how you choose to implement this technique, it may be sensible to consult with a medical professional (particularly if you’re pregnant or dealing with a health issue, for example).
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
As the name suggests, this strategy is helpful at reducing the muscle tension that it’s common to feel when you’re “depression angry”3. In order to practice it, we recommend trying the following exercise:
- Make sure you’re sitting or lying down in a comfortable place where you will not be disturbed.
- Then, begin by taking several slow, deep breaths, before bringing your attention to your forehead. Tighten the muscles in your forehead for a count of 15, and then release this tension over 30 seconds. Tune in to how different your muscles feel when you tense them compared to when they’re relaxed.
- Next, move on to your jaw. Tense your jaw muscles and grit your teeth gently. Hold this for 15 seconds, then relax for a count of 30, or until your jaw muscles are fully relaxed.
- The next muscle group to focus on is your shoulders and neck. Tense your shoulders, bringing them up as close to your ears as possible. Again, hold this for 15 seconds, before releasing the tension as you count to 30, and feel how the tension seeps out of your body.
- Now, focus on your hands and arms. Ball your hands into fists and bring them into your chest, holding this tension for 15 seconds. Pay attention to the relaxing sensation when you release the pressure over a 30 second period.
- Focus on your buttocks, repeating the 15-second tension and 30-second relaxation sequence before moving on to your legs, and then finally, to your feet.
As you progress through this exercise, keep your breathing slow. At its conclusion, you’ll likely find yourself feeling more relaxed than you did beforehand.
“Depression anger” is associated with elevated energy levels3 – and, for this reason, yet another helpful method of de-escalating “depression anger” in the “heat of the moment” is to release this increased energy by exercising2.
Strategy To Help You Manage "Depression Anger" #2: Visualisation
Visualisation is a technique that uses mental imagery to bring you into a state of calm. Although there are many different kinds of visualisation, arguably one of the simplest and most effective when it comes to easing “depression anger” is imagining yourself somewhere safe, calm and peaceful. In particular, it can be beneficial visualising natural scenery, such as:
- A beach;
- A park;
- A river;
- A meadow;
- Rolling green hills.
This is because spending time in nature has various psychological benefits, and since your brain and your body often can’t distinguish between what’s really happening to you and what you’re just imagining1, then if you can’t get out and about in nature, imagining that you’re there can be the next best thing. However, if you prefer, you can indeed choose to visualise somewhere else that you find safe, calm and peaceful – or if you wish, you could even make up a place1.
Regardless of wherever you choose to visualise, though, we encourage you to try practicing this technique via the exercise below.
A Visualisation Exercise For When You Feel “Depression Angry”
Begin this exercise by sitting down or lying somewhere comfortable, and simply taking a few deep breaths … breathing in through your nose … and then out through your mouth … in through your nose … and then out through your mouth. Then, while you continue to do so, imagine yourself somewhere you find safe, calm and peaceful, and try to visualise it in as much detail as possible. For example, if you’re picturing yourself at the beach, try to go deeper than just picturing the sand and the waves, by filling in all the other little details as well. For example, are you alone or with others? If you’re sitting on the sand, what coloured towel are you sitting on? Are there any shells around you, and if so, what size are they? Are there any seagulls? How about sandcastles – can you see any? What shade of blue is the water? Are there any children playing in it? Any boats in the distance? How about the sky? How does its shade of blue compare to that of the water? Are there any clouds out? In this way, really try to visualise the scene in as much detail as possible.
Then, once you’ve set the visual scene like so, try to imagine how where you’re picturing yourself being might engage the rest of your senses. For example, if you’re picturing yourself at the beach, then imaging feeling the sun against your exposed skin, and the sand underneath your feet and in between your toes. Imagine hearing the sound of seagulls chirping, and the crashing of the waves before they wash up upon the shore. Imagine smelling the brine in the air, or the fish and chips you’ve ordered that you’re about to dig in to. Imagine what that fish and chips, an ice-cold beer, or the beach’s salt on your lips tastes like. Continue visualising your safe, calm, peaceful place in as much detail as possible like so for as long as you want to, and then when you’re ready, open your eyes again.
Strategy To Help You Manage "Depression Anger" #3: Quieten The Thoughts Which Fuel “Depression Anger”
As you can likely relate to, your thoughts and the things you tell yourself can significantly fuel “depression anger”. In particular, some common “depression anger”-fuelling thoughts include, for example:
- “It’s all my fault.”
- “I’m such a piece of s**t for not showering all week or taking the trash out.”
- “Life is so unfair.”
- “I’m such a failure.”
- “I’ve screwed up again – just like I always do!”
- “Everybody is so careless and self-centred.”
- “Why me?”
- “Nothing good ever happens to me.”
For this reason, if you “observe” that you’re thinking one or more thoughts that are causing you to feel “depression angry” / to get “depression angry”, then in order to ease your “depression anger”, it can help to implement one or more strategies to quieten these thoughts3 - for example, by:
Labelling Your Thoughts
This is a strategy that, for each of your “depression anger”-fuelling thoughts, involves labelling them as just that – thoughts.
For example, let’s say that you’re having the negative thoughts “I can’t do anything right” and “I’m such a failure”. In this case, try repeating to yourself:
“I’m having the thought that I can’t do anything right … I’m having the thought that I’m a failure …”
Or, “the thought that ‘I can’t do anything right’ has popped into my head … and the thought that ‘I’m a failure’ has also popped into my head, too …”
Labelling your “depression anger”-fuelling thoughts like so can help you to view them as exactly what they are – thoughts – as opposed to inaccurately perceiving them as facts. And, when you can see that your thoughts are just thoughts and nothing more, then you’re less likely to buy into them so much, and as a result, they’ll likely lose some of their power to fuel your “depression anger”.
“Thought defusion” is a mindfulness technique that you can use to help prevent yourself from buying into the thoughts that fuel your “depression anger”1. To learn more about this strategy, please click here to read this blog post.
End of free excerpt
We hope you find these strategies helpful when it comes to managing "depression anger" ❤️
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.
McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2019). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. New Harbinger Publications.
Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford.
Chapman, A. L. (2015). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anger. New Harbinger Publications.
P.S. If you'd like to learn a lot more strategies to help you manage "depression anger", then you'll find our "Depression Anger" Journal really, really helpful.