New Year’s Day is synonymous with self-improvement and new beginnings. People use it as a jumping-off point to embrace healthier diets, new workout programs, and other lifestyle changes. Those changes, though, shouldn’t be limited to just your physical health. You can and should embrace changes to impact your emotional and psychological well-being, too. In fact, given the interplay between our physical and emotional health, those attempts to improve our psychological well-being will likely go a long way toward helping with our physical health goals.
With that in mind, and because I study anger, here are five New Year’s Resolutions you should embrace if you are looking to experience healthier anger.
1. Take care of yourself physically. Your anger is likely more of a problem when you are tired, hungry, stressed, or in an otherwise unpleasant mood. While we can’t always prevent those negative moods, we can take steps to minimize how often we find ourselves in them by taking care of ourselves. Make sure you are getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy meals regularly, and getting frequent exercise. Taking time to take care of yourself will help minimize how angry you get when you experience those routine frustrations.
2. Think about the provocations you invite into your life. While some frustrations might just happen to us, there are others that we actively invite into our lives. Sometimes that is OK—maybe even good for us—but sometimes it becomes unnecessary. Maybe you don’t need to see your politically polar-opposite cousin’s Facebook posts? Maybe watching the football game you get so angry about isn’t necessary? Maybe you can leave a few minutes earlier for work each morning to avoid traffic and feeling rushed? While it wouldn’t be healthy to try to avoid every provocation out there, we don’t need to actively seek out frustrations, either. Try to decide which provocations are worthwhile and which ones you can skip.
3. Learn how to decrease your anger in the moment. When you do get angry, make an effort to decrease that feeling in the moment so it doesn’t get out of hand (even though anger is a healthy emotion, it can be unhealthy when extreme or long-lasting). You can do this by taking time to breathe deeply, by visualizing a pleasant experience or a positive outcome, or by using some other relaxation method. Even slowly counting to 10 can help you decrease that unwanted anger so you can move on.
4. Think about your thoughts. There are several types of thoughts that tend to exacerbate how angry you get in the moment. For some, the problem is that they catastrophize (i.e., they blow things out of proportion with thoughts like “This is going to ruin my entire day”). For others, it’s that they make unreasonable demands of people in their life with thoughts like “They should drop what they are doing to help me right now”). These thoughts (you can take a survey to learn more about yours) can make already unpleasant situations feel far worse to us. At the same time, though, we are able to investigate our thoughts and catch ourselves when we catastrophize, label, or blame people in unreasonable and unhealthy ways. Doing so will often serve to decrease unwanted or unhealthy anger.
5. Consider how you express your anger. Not only is it OK to be angry sometimes, it’s actually good for you in that your anger can serve as fuel that energizes you to confront injustice and to solve problems in your life. The key, of course, is how you express it. A healthy approach to dealing with anger is to find ways to channel that anger into positive prosocial solutions. For instance, problem-solving, protesting, writing poetry or literature, and creating music or other forms of art can all serve as healthy and positive outlets for expressing anger.