How to Get Control over Your Anger
We all have triggers – things that irritate or irk us on a daily basis. Perhaps there’s a family member or coworker who regularly makes you see red, or a situation, like calling customer service or driving in traffic, that gets your blood boiling. Unless you are a meditation master, chances are these things can, on occasion, set you off. And while experiencing anger is normal, the cost of anger and its accompanying aggression can be high: you may damage relationships, lose respectability or hurt someone you love – not to mention the stress it puts you under. But bottling it up certainly doesn’t help – denying or suppressing your anger can lead to physical and mental health problems, and you’ll often end up blowing up eventually, anyway. If you want to prevent the outbursts in the first place, here are some ways to keep your anger under control.
Take a Break - One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to volatile couples and families is to take a 15-30 minute break from one another when things get heated. When you are angry, you can’t think clearly because your body is in “fight or flight” mode. This is a useful state to be in if you are preparing for battle, but pretty unhelpful if you’re trying to be rational with someone you care about. Taking some time to distract yourself and calm down by taking a walk, taking some deep breaths (see below) or listening to music will help you regulate your nervous system so that when you revisit the issue you will be able to talk about it more rationally. Your relationships will thank you!
Be Aware of Your Feelings - Anger is considered a “secondary” emotion. This means that a person or situation may trigger a “primary” emotion such as fear, hurt, shame or loneliness, but because we may not accept or want to deal with those feelings, we express them as anger instead. Men are especially prone to this because they’ve been socialized since childhood to believe that sadness equals weakness, whereas anger is perceived as more acceptable. Many women have absorbed this message, too. This toxic myth perseveres despite the fact that many of us consciously believe the opposite. If you can take a moment to connect to your feelings, you may find that anger is simply a defense mechanism to avoid the fear, hurt or shame you are feeling. Recognizing the primary, or true emotion will help take the punch out of your anger.
Connect With Your Breath - Sometimes taking a 15-30 minute break is not an option – when you’re driving, for example, or during an interaction at work. In those cases, even a pause is better than nothing. Once you are better able to identify your feelings, you will start to be able to identify your triggers as well. So if you know being cut off in traffic leads to a blow-up, take some deep, slow breaths to prevent it. The 4-7-8 breath has been found to be particularly effective for calming the nervous system right away and has even greater benefits as a daily practice.
Change Your Point of View - When you’re feeling angry, it’s easy to believe that the world is out to get you or that someone is deliberately pushing your buttons. But, in fact, that belief is what’s causing the anger, not the situation itself. If you can change your beliefs, you can change the way you feel. Believing that someone made a rude comment to you because they dislike or want to hurt you will likely make you angry. But perhaps they made that comment because they are under a lot of stress in their own life, and you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It may not be about you at all, in which case you don’t need to take it personally. In fact, you may gain some compassion for that person by changing your point of view. And if it is about you, exploring the “why” of the interaction by asking the person why things went south could lead to an opportunity for self-growth for you and a better understanding of them.
Lastly, be patient with yourself! Like anything else, controlling your anger takes practice, and even after practicing these techniques, you may not always use them perfectly or in all situations. But if you try them out, you may find that making these little changes will lead to becoming a calmer, happier, less angry you.