5 Ways To Mindfully Calm Anger (Even When You're Furious)
We often hear about the temperature of the planet rising due to climate change. But what about the country’s rising emotional temperature?
A recent survey on American rage showed that 68 percent — that's two of every three people — got angry at least once a day because of something they either heard about or read in the news. In fact, a majority of Americans are angrier than they were a year ago, often because of disappointments and frustrations.
In a world where things feel out of control, anger might offer a sense of control and a feeling of self-righteousness. But daily episodes of anger produce unhealthy chronic stress that damages the body, strains careers, and alienates those you care about.
If anger seems like an irrational choice, it is. That’s because it literally hijacks the rational and thinking part of the brain. To protect us against danger, the brain quickly responds to fear and even perceived threats by activating the body’s fight-or-flight stress response. This causes your body and brain to be flooded with the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. But when cortisol remains in the body two or more days, it affects the body’s immune system by reducing its T-cell count, impairing memory, and reducing Natural Killer (NK) cells that fight viruses and even some kinds of tumors.
But this doesn't mean that all anger is bad or that it needs to be eliminated. Rather, it's important to understand what's behind the anger.
Fortunately, there are new methods for transforming anger through using mindfulness and cognitive reappraisal. Scientists are now learning that the very process of looking inward and naming your emotions actually calms down and inhibits the stress response.
Here are five mindful steps to transform and shift your anger in ways that are healthier and more enriching:
1. Rate your anger.
By ranking your anger, you constructively distance yourself from it. Instead of being angry, you're now simply observing the anger as an object of your attention. You’ve shifted your relationship to the anger in a matter of moments. I recommend rating your anger in these three categories:
a) Small anger, irritation, or annoyance that's quickly forgotten, like standing in a slow-moving line.
b) Medium-size anger that makes you really mad or upset. For example, when a coworker repeats a behavior that infuriates you and affects your work.
c) Super-sized anger that prompts you to lose control, such as shouting, cursing, or throwing something across the room.
2. Breathe and relax your body.
Calm your body through breathing and relaxing your posture and body tension. This is important because if your body is relaxed, your mind will also feel more at ease.
First, clasp your hands behind your back or behind your head and take a nice deep breath. Hold it for three or four seconds before exhaling slowly. Notice whether your hands and jaw are clenched. Let them relax and reach your arms up to the sky in a nice stretching position.
After relaxing your body, change your facial expression by smiling.
3. Get curious about your anger.
Look inwardly in a curious way at what just happened to make you angry. Ask yourself: Who, and what, triggered your anger? How appropriate is the level of your anger to the issue that produced it?
4. Unravel the anger knot.
Reflect on when this anger knot first originated in your life. Is this old anger? Is this your family’s anger? Was this anger learned?
It’s okay not to find the answer. The fact that you're exploring may eventually lead to greater understanding. And besides, you’ve stopped the knot from getting drawn any tighter in this moment.
5. Find a new direction.
Now that you’ve calmed down, constructively distanced yourself from the anger, and brought your thinking brain back online, consider your next move.
How can you choose to respond more effectively in this moment? You might choose to take a walk or talk with a supportive friend. The possibilities are endless, and that’s the point — you now have other options.
It was once believed to be cathartic to express anger by venting or punching pillows. In fact, it's actually a behavior that increases anger, perhaps in the same way that some blogs and social media act as virtual punching bags.
Mindfulness offers a more kind, gentle, and supportive antidote to anger. There’s no rush and no one to hit over the head, especially yourself. There’s just untying this anger, one small knot at a time.