Anger is a horrible feeling, one most of us would not choose for ourselves. Nevertheless, we get angry. Sometimes we get angry over misunderstandings. Sometimes we get angry about silly things that catch us at the wrong moment: a tube of toothpaste, crumbs on the counter, a slow walker in front of us. Sometimes we get angry because it seems like those people over there are destroying the planet, hurting animals or oppressing others.
In short, feeling angry is justified at times, and at other times, it’s misplaced. But, rarely is it something we want to feel. It is, in many ways, the antithesis of what we desire. While we have this emotion for real reasons like self-preservation and stress release, being angry too often, too intensely and/or too enduringly is very problematic for our mental, as well as physical, health.
Anger, like stress, adjusts our blood pressure and heart, and done too much this takes a serious toll on our physical wellbeing. Chronic anger has also been connected with migraines and decreased sexual performance. Mentally, it can lead to clinical depression, substance abuse, poor relationships, anxiety, insomnia and fatigue. The added mental weight then weakens our immune systems and makes our bodies more vulnerable yet again.
In other words, while feeling angry is likely something we can’t avoid, managing that anger is something we can all work on, and the benefits are notable beyond emotional. While it’s easy to fly off the handle, habitual even, there are some other, healthier habits we could adopt instead.
1. Practice Mindfulness
For some of us, mindfulness sounds a bit too heady, but that probably is just an object to the terminology rather than the practice. In truth, mindfulness is a very simple and rational approach to understanding ourselves. Anger often arrives quickly and lays waste to those around us before we even know what we’ve done. Being mindful of our emotional state, especially beforehand, can help us avoid getting angry. A short morning meditation goes a long way with this. Admitting and knowing how you are feeling is oddly powerful.
When we are mindful of how we feel rather than slaves to emotion, we are aware of anger mounting inside of us. This is a signal to stop and separate the emotion from the action causing it. That might mean no longer participating in a political discussion with your brother. It might mean pulling into a parking lot to get away from an inconsiderate driver. It might mean walking away without having your points be heard. And, that’s just fine. Those points can be made later if need be or never at all if not. The real point here is to avoid getting angry for your own mental and physical wellbeing. Until that can happen, the rest is moot.
3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
With anger, our physical body gets tense and tight. Consequently, we can actually wrangle the wrath by calming our muscles down. Rather than punching a wall or tossing something across the room, it’s more productive to focus on tensing and releasing our muscles. It’s good to start from the feet or toes and work your way up the body: the calves, the thighs, the lower back, the abdomen, etc. Not only does the physical subdue the situation, it gives the spike in emotion time to flatten into something manageable.
4. Purposeful Breathing
Anger can actually be a breath-taking experience for some, with emotional distress so high it leaves leaving them gasping for air. This might even be from yelling. Purposeful breathing can help with that, and in doing so, it can also alleviate the accumulated anger much more effectively than shouting it away. This could be as easy as breathing in for a five count then exhaling for a five count until the boil gets down to a simmer, the simmer down to stillness. Breathing is as basic as it gets but it powerfully beneficial when done purposefully.
5. Professional Help
Sometimes we need help. Sometimes problems have been left too long to sort them out ourselves. If the techniques above aren’t helping, which is not to insinuate a 100% success rate but a noted improvement, then it might be time to call in the pros. We might try fix a plumbing problem ourselves at home, but at some point, sometimes, we know we need to call a plumber. Well, anger management is no different. It’s worth working on at home, but if the faucet has become a fountain in the kitchen, it might be a problem we don’t have the tools to fix.
Anger is how we feel, not what someone else has done. Similarly, anger management is what we do, not what someone else has done or is doing. When we realize that, we start to take control and responsibility for ourselves, which is the one thing we can control and must be responsibility for. Luckily, we have a constructive path, away from anger, that we can take.
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