Taming the Rageful Lion Within

A better way to overcome anger

Posted Aug 16, 2010

Can exercise moderate anger? A recent study cited in the New York Times Magazine (August 15, 2010) purports that it does.  To be sure, "activity" helps control rage, but that's not saying much.

A more important, real-world test would inquire, are you getting better, or merely feeling temporarily better? Certainly, doing a few push-ups might forestall pulling an airplane chute.  But how vulnerable do you want to be to anger? 

Do you want to go through life chronically reacting angrily every time you experience rudeness, unfairness,slow baristas, and outrageous selfishness?

Most treatments for anger are palliative, in that they help you in the short run. But in order to uproot the tendency to carry anger, rage and resentment around requires a bit more than padding on an elliptical machine.

Historically, we see many methods people have used to to blunt anger: exercise, yoga, mediation, drinking, and most often, distraction.  Even thinking positive thoughts is a temporary reprieve from anger. Of course, some methods to get over anger have not proven too useful. Think of smoking, drinking, punching bags (those actually make you angrier).

Getting better requires more than a palliative.  That proverbial chip on a shoulder is really a philosophy.

Clinically, I have found that people only disrupt the habit of getting enraged when they force themselves to think differently. One had better explicitly practice renouncing a sense of entitlement, and the habit of declaring desires in a commanding tone (to oneself and others).  

Of course there may be times when anger is appropriate, but we tend to call these displays "passion" and "determination."

Sure, you can use yoga and meditation, exercise and mindfulness to feel better.  Nothing wrong with feeling better.  But anger, depression, and even anxiety, return unless you question the commands that others "should" be fair, or "should not" act unfairly, or that the world "should" treat you kindly.