How to Calm Down

Conventional anger management programs teach relaxation techniques and impulse-control skills, but as critics point out, these classes skim the surface of rage, mostly helping those people who are already determined to change. In psychologist Steven Stosny's view, their flaw is that anger strikes too quickly for cognitive control, boiling over before the rational brain can stop it. Because anger is often fueled by guilt and shame, making people feel bad about their behavior doesn't work either—it reinforces the angry person's sense of victimhood. His aim is to get to the root of anger, using a step-by-step process he calls HEALS:

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H: At the first sign of anger, call up the word heals in your mind—if a particular person is making you mad, you should actually picture that person with the word on his face.

E: Explain to yourself what Stosny calls your "deepest core hurt" that lies behind the anger, such as feeling unlovable, disregarded or powerless.

A: The third step is to "access your core value": Take an inventory of what makes your life worth living—good deeds you've done, loving relationships or values you want to uphold, like honesty and bravery.

L: Next, "love yourself."

S: Finally, "solve the problem": Address the conflict that underlies the anger.

He prescribes 750 repetitions over the course of four to six weeks, training angry people to automatically draw on this process during moments of stress. "What we try to do is condition this core value experience to occur with the arousal itself," Stosny says. "As soon as you start to get angry, you think about how you love this person. You have to practice getting angry, think about something that got you angry, feel the arousal and then practice it. It's like basic training in the military."

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