Managing Anger With Time Out

Expressing anger is a challenge. It can get you into trouble fast if you don't have the right tools. Learning what increases your stress is the starting point. Once you are able to recognize that, this tool can be a lifesaver.

It's called taking a time-out.  Most of us have used this with our kids. It's very effective in managing anger. It removes yourself from the situation so that you can calm down.

Time-outs keep people safe. It's not just leaving the situation, it's how you leave that makes the difference. Here are the steps for an effective time-out.

Steps for time-out

  1. Recognize your early signs of anger; rapid heart beat, sweating, feeling anxious, irritable, or confused, negative thinking, blaming others, smoking or using other substances to receive stress, etc. 
  2. Pay attention to what triggers you. Write out the situations that upset you. 
  3. Make a plan for each trigger. List each one and figure out ahead of time what will help. Take a walk, call a friend, listen to music, write in a journal are a few examples. Separating yourself is what makes the time-out most effective. Staying in the same room keeps the argument going. 
  4. Explain the time-out to your partner before using it. "When I start getting upset, I'm going to take a walk. I'll be back in 30 minutes." If trust has been broken, your partner might react negatively. Don't get defensive and validate their point of view.  Showing that you understand their upset - without necessarily agreeing with it - is very effective.
  5. Set up your time-out. Take no more than 20-30 minutes (to avoid it becoming leisure time)and choose a safe place to go. Leave the house if possible to avoid continuing the fight.

Additional tips:

  • Return at the agreed upon time. This builds trust.
  • Offer to resume the discussion if you both are ready to talk calmly.
  • When resuming the discussion, focus on your concerns and what you need.
  • Avoid blame and criticism. Stick to the facts.
  • If you need more time before talking it out, say so.

Avoiding problems

Don't tell your partner they need a time-out. They will likely get defensive. Use the time-out for yourself. If you set the example they may follow.

Note: Over time, if your partner doesn't respect the time-out, this may indicate abusive behavior. Following you during time-outs, preventing you from leaving or any unwanted physical contact are signs of abuse. Please seek professional help if needed.

The benefits of time-out

Using time-out can avoid the argument from escalating. Instead time-out helps you learn to control your reactions. This can restore self-esteem and decrease stress.

It's also great role-modeling for kids. Imagine if your parents used time-outs instead of screaming or hitting? How would that have changed your attitudes about anger?

Time-out is a powerful way to normalize anger and make it safe to express feelings instead of blowing up. Anger doesn't have to get out of control, you just need to catch it early and make a plan to remove yourself. 

If you have more questions about how to mange your anger, call or text me at (408)800-5736 or email me at mft@counselingrecovery.com for a free phone consultation. I'd love to talk to you! 

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