Some people are prone to rage more often than others, but anger is a feeling that many of us could use a bit of help in handling. The choices we make when angry can often come back to haunt us, but the cycle can be hard to break. Anger has power—but there are healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with that power, from letting it control you to wielding it in a way that spurs you on to something positive. Here's how to tame your inner raging bull:
1) Own It. Pretending you're not angry—especially while exhibiting nearly cartoonish physical signs of anger—does no good for you, the target of your anger, or your blood pressure. Many people think that to acknowledge anger is the same as acting inappropriately on it. That's simply not true, and the difference in those two concepts is huge. Admitting that you are upset, whether to yourself, or as calmly as possible to the person you're in conflict with ("I admit I seem to be getting upset here. I want to resolve this and not do anything I regret, so I am going to try to slow down.") can validate your feelings. This in turn can help you feel more empowered toward working toward a solution, and it will also diminish the conflict within yourself.
2) Break It Down. So you're still simmering after your yearly review? If you jot down some of your thoughts, whether with prehistoric pen and paper or with an app du jour, you'll gain some clarity as to how they're serving as the antecedents to your feelings. In the process, you can sort out why you're upset and what steps you can take work through the situation. Perhaps most important, putting your feelings into words can make them feel more tangible, and therefore more manageable—which can eventually help them work their way out of your system.
3) Move It Out. As physical signs go, anger can look very similar to other forms of arousal, like anxiety or even excitement. Calming those physical impulses, or giving them someplace useful to go, can help you get your anger under control. Slow down your breathing through several long, deep breaths. Loosen your muscles through clenching and unclenching your fists and slowly doing a neck roll. If you can use that arousal for good rather than for clocking someone in the face, you'll be better off. So channel that rage into an activity that can release tension: running, kickboxing, dancing, jumping rope, or even just beating your fists against your chest like a gorilla. A primal scream can be helpful if you are blessed with the space. Instead of letting your frustration burn you up, you can burn it off. And if it comes out in the shape of tears, or even demonic laughter? Just let it.
4) Find The Big Picture. If you're still feeling steamed from that interaction with your colleague or that snarky tone from the person in line at the coffee shop, it might be time to make a list of the things you're grateful for. Gratitude meditations, or just sitting and focusing on what's right in your life, will make what you're angry about seem more molehill than mountain. You might also choose to think about the person whom you think has wronged you, and imagine what unique challenges they may be reacting to. Think about the ways that they could use some empathy, and try to mentally give it to them—that can often neutralize anger.
5) Share—carefully. If there is a friend or loved one you trust, sharing your feelings with them can sometimes be cathartic. But be aware that not everyone is equipped to hear difficult feelings in a healthy, supportive way. Some might just not be good listeners, and could just try to bottle up your emotions for you. Others might try to fan the flames, like audiences in a gladiator match.
6) Act. If someone drove poorly on the freeway, you'll simply move on, eventually. But if you're part of a toxic relationship or the victim of a serial aggressor, you'll need to do what you can to chart out steps to improve the situation. A specific plan of action with methodical goals, and the pathways to get there, can lend a very important sense of control, reducing your stress and increasing your peace.
7) Be Watchful. Sometimes things may seem to be resolved, but rage still lingers residually, in the form of irritability, insomnia, or even depression. Increasing your mindfulness via your awareness in the moment of your thoughts and feelings, and the triggers that seem to cause them, can serve as an early warning system for future conflicts. It can also help you determine if your anger is due to something deeper that could benefit from talking to a professional.
copyright Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.
Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist, media commentator, professor, and author of The Friendship Fix and the Washington Post Express's longtime advice column Baggage Check. Follow her on twitter @drandreabonior or Facebook.
Photo credit: Seth Woodworth