Much like anxiety, learning to calm your anger on a consistent basis is a skill that may take many years of counseling to perfect. However, I do find that, with many of my clients, by simply employing some simple techniques their emotional tolerance level can be increased.
The thing about anger, and any intense emotion actually, is that once you are past a certain point it is physically impossible to rein it in. This is explained by how the brain works. When the brain is in a heightened state of emotion, the part that is in charge of logic (called the pre-frontal cortex) goes “off-line” and is in-accessible to the individual. This is a helpful reaction when in a life or death situation as it allows for “survival mode” to take precedence over logic. However, when it is not life or death, this lack of logic and reasoning can be very destructive.
Therefore, the key is to learn to recognize the emotion, in this case anger, the very moment you begin to sense it coming on in order to intervene prior to the point when your ability to reason is no longer possible! That “point of no return” is different for every individual, however, the more curious you are about how your body responds to anger (i.e: burning in your stomach, rapid heart beat, teeth clenching, face getting how, numbness in hands and feet, hands making fists etc) the better you will be able to recognize and respond to these early signs.
Below is a list of techniques I have compiled that can be used the exact moment you BEGIN to feel your anger building. If you are able to intervene with these at that point, your tolerance level will increase and your chances at “keeping your cool” will be greater. However, it is important to note that this has to be a very conscious effort. No one can MAKE you learn calm your anger if you choose not to.
- Take Deep Breaths – Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. The exhalation must be longer than the inhalation. This simple act that can be done anywhere send a message to your brain to calm down.
Scribble – Grab a pencil or crayon and scribble as hard and fast as you can to expend your building anger.
- Rip a phone book – No one uses them and everyone has them. Ripping it in half is nearly impossible and ripping out each page is physically satisfying. Its the release of the energy that helps to relieve the anger and this also allows for the satisfaction of being destructive without causing any actual harm.
4. STOP.THINK.GO – When in the midst of a confrontation:
STOP before you react
THINK about your options and the consequences of each
GO with the option that has the best outcome.
5. Opposite Action – This works for a variety of difficult emotions. The idea is that when you act on initial urges of intense feelings you often end up in a cyclical emotional deterioration that offers little help, therefore do the opposite of the urge. This chart shows that main 4 emotions people wish to intervene on.
|Anger||Attack/run towards||Avoid/ if you can’t avoid be civil|
|Sadness/depression||Withdraw||Engage with others|
|Anxiety/Fear||Run Away||Go Towards|
|Shame/guilt||Stop the behavior||Continue the behavior|
Opposite action only works when the situation does not justify the emotion.
- Fear is justified when there is a threat to health, life, or well-being
- Guilt is justified when it goes against you morals or values. It is not justified when it involves self-care activities and the urge is often to stop – so continue!
6. Physical (but safe) Release – Often times the urge of anger is a physical outlet. By knowing if you are susceptible to this ahead of time, you are able to mentally note a few options of physical energy release that be used in lieu of destructive impulses. Ie: find an easily accessible punching bag, go for a run, scream as loud as you can and for as long as you want into a pillow, punch a pillow, do jumping jacks until exhausted, ripping a phone book, squeeze a stress ball as hard as you can etc.
- Follow the 3 Rules to Reacting:
- Say what you are feeling
- What caused the feeling
- What you need to help alleviate the feeling
Ie: I am really angry because you promised you would go to XY event with me today, in the future could you please follow through with promises.
Difficult feelings are often indications of a need not being met ot a boundary being crossed. When you give a voice to the your feelings and needs it often helps the brain and body to release and/pr work through the emotion or feeling.
- Put the situation in perspective with the 5 Fives
Will this matter in: 5 minutes? 5 Hours? 5 Days? 5 Months? 5 Years?
9.Play-doh (circle, Square) – Put a small ball of play-doh in one hand and make it into a cube then back to a ball and back to a cube etc. without looking at it. Using only the one hand until your anger or overwhelming feeling has dissipated. It is difficult to focus on the cube/square of the play-doh and the emotion at the same time.
10. Write in a Journal – This goes back to giving the difficult feelings a voice