Anger is a natural emotion. Everyone experiences anger from time to time. Unfortunately, when anger becomes excessive it can result in all kinds of problems. And anger is often excessive. You may regularly have the experience of getting worked up about something, stewing over it, and then allowing it to influence your behavior by snapping at someone. Then after it’s over with, you recognize the thing that triggered you wasn’t such a big deal after all. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to modulate your reactions to situations to decrease your anger and handle stressors more effectively.
1. Mindfully acknowledge your anger: One of the first things you can do is to simply acknowledge that your anger is present. When anger rises to a fever-pitch, we often get strong urges to act (think honking your horn). The more intense the anger, the shorter the time between the angry urge and our action. Thus we act without thinking. To slow this process down a bit, and allow time for a little more choice and rational thought, mindfulness can be helpful. Whenever you notice physical manifestations of anger, such as a flushed face, describe the feelings silently in your mind: “I notice a feeling of my face flushed.” As angry thoughts arise, do the same: “I’m noticing thoughts about how I should be treated,” or “I’m noticing urges to react.” Putting words to our experience rather than being hooked in by them can be a helpful tool in reacting differently to angry impulses, and reducing the intensity and duration of anger.
2. Weigh the pros and cons: Do some cost-benefit analysis in your mind about acting out of anger. List all of the benefits of reacting in anger “feeling of relief, feeling of control, people listen, etc.” Now list all of the cons “say hurtful things to others, stress relationships, regret…” It is likely that the pros are more short-term, and the cons are more long-term. Human beings are more likely to be influenced by short-term consequences rather than long-term consequences. So by reminding yourself of some of the long-term cons when the anger arises, it forces the negative consequences into the short-term, and makes them more compelling to consider before reacting.
3. Remove yourself from the situation: It’s likely that the longer you’re in a triggering situation, the more triggered you will be. Take a 5-minute break (a bathroom break works great for this. No one will argue with you for needing to go to the bathroom.) from whatever you are doing to allow the emotion to return to baseline. That way you’ll be able to handle things more effectively when you come back, your judgment unclouded by anger.
4. Consider alternate perspectives: Notice the way you are thinking about what is making you angry. It’s likely that the angrier you get, the more rigid your thinking is becoming. To loosen up your thought patterns and consequently reduce your level of anger, think of the triggering situation from a few different viewpoints. Take different perspectives. In the grand scheme of things, is this really that important? What would be the worst-case scenario, and is it really that bad? What are some reasons your opponent’s position makes perfect sense? Why might it be a good idea to reconsider your point of view? Rather than focusing on the problem, consider focusing on the solution. These and other ways of chewing on something from different angles may help to soften intense emotions.
5. Develop love and compassion: Love is incompatible with anger. The two can’t exist in the same person at the same time. Practice learning to love and appreciate people and situations that frustrate you. When you’re facing them, practice smiling genuinely at them. Think to yourself, “May this person have happiness. May this person be free of suffering.” There is significant new research to show that inducing thoughts of love and compassion can have numerous benefits, including improved mood, better immune response, and increased psychological flexibility (Weng et al., 2013), not to mention fewer instances of uncontrolled anger.
Using one or several of these strategies may help you control your anger in a more workable way. The more you practice them, the better you’ll get at them, putting you back in the driver’s seat rather than your anger. Click here for more information on cognitive behavioral therapy for anger.
Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Shackman, A. J., Stodola, D. E., Caldwell, J. Z. K., Olson, M. C., Rogers, G. M., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering. Psychological Science.
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