5 Ways to Deal with Anger
Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Ever been cut off by someone on the highway? Do you remember how you felt, what thoughts you were having, what kinds of sensations were running through your body? Those times are tough! It is easy to get so caught up in that moment and do something we later regret (i.e., yell, honk, curse, raise a one finger salute). It is also easy to let those moments continue well past when the actual event happened. We talk about it, we feel the aftermath of those heightened emotions, and we can let the situation affect the rest of our day, including our interactions with others. Those moments challenge us to keep a broader perspective and notice if we are behaving in line with what we want to stand for. What can be done? Next time when difficult emotions arise caused by someone slighting us, you can try out a little experiment and see how it works for you.
1. Take a deep breath using your diaphragm. I know this sounds cliche, but when emotions run hot, our "thinking brain" can be hard to access, and our breathing changes. Our breathing speeds up or we may stop breathing briefly. By breathing deeply (with eyes open, especially if you are driving), we can establish solid ground for the other methods to take hold.
2. Slow down and take notice of what is inside. Take notice of the sensations that you are experiencing and label them. Take notice of where in your body you are feeling them and the physical sensations of the emotion. For instance, you can say, "I notice my heartbeat has sped up, I feel hot, and my shoulders are tense."
3. Label the emotion. For example, if you are experiencing anger (or irritation/annoyance), say, "I notice that I feel angry" or “I notice that I am having the feeling of anger.” I suggest this language instead of "I am angry," because you are not a feeling or emotion, and although cumbersome at first, the “I notice” language helps us to expand around the emotion rather than struggle with it.
4. Take notice of what is outside using five senses experiencing. By starting to notice, focus on, or bring awareness to one to two things we smell, touch, taste, feel, and see, we can reconnect with what we are experiencing rather than what our emotions are telling us about the situation (i.e., that the driver is a @#$% or that it’s unfair that police aren’t around to catch this guy). This approach helps us to be more flexible in the way we respond to difficult emotions and see other explanations of behavior (e.g., she's rushing to bring her child medicine at school). If we respond to our circumstances and realize the moment is over and done with, rather than react based our emotions, we can open ourselves to the last step.
5. Identify the why. Why try these steps? Maybe it's because you care about being a loving parent to the child who is riding in the backseat. Maybe it's because you value compassion and empathy. Maybe it's because you're learning more about yourself, trying to get out of unhelpful habits, and are curious about trying an alternative way of handling life's stress. Whatever it is, make trying the above experiment meaningful to you in a way that works for you.
If you are willing, I encourage you to try the above both inside and outside of situations that create anger. Then simply notice what unfolds.