We are all likely familiar with the emotion of anger, and probably experience it from time to time. Anger is largely seen as an undesirable or unhelpful emotion, but in fact, like all emotions, anger is important. When we feel angry, it is our mind’s way of indicating to us that certain situations or behaviours are not acceptable for us. While a lot of people experience short bursts of anger that is expressed in a moderately controlled way, others can experience difficulty in managing their anger and their expression of it – often having a significant impact on their relationships with others, in a variety of settings, such as at home with family, at work, with friends and even the general public
The tips to manage anger, outlined in this article, stem from the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of refocusing your attention and bringing it to the present moment through various grounding techniques. Practicing mindfulness usually involves guided imagery, breathing techniques and other grounding exercises to help relax the body and mind to reduce stress. Refocusing your attention and engaging with relaxation can help you to manage your anger better, feel more in control and communicate more effectively.
While anger can be useful and constructive in some ways, if not managed properly it can become disruptive. Learning how to manage your anger can be daunting at first, but with some simple mindfulness practices you can start paving the way to a calmer life.
Below, you’ll find 7 mindfulness tips that can help you keep your cool and learn how to manage your anger better.
One of the fundamental aspects of mindfulness is awareness. Recognising that you are feeling anger and where in your body this emotion is manifesting is an important first step to gaining control over this emotion. Notice your heart rate increasing, your body temperature rising, your body posture, whether your fists are clenched or not and the pace at which you’re breathing. Acknowledging your anger is important, as trying to suppress it can cause the anger to bubble away under the surface for much longer, triggering anxiety and outbursts in the future. If you spend time practicing awareness when you are angry, you can manage it more effectively and also become better at noticing signs that you are angry in the future, before the anger escalates.
Notice your thoughts. If you have recurring thoughts such as ‘I can’t believe that happened’ or ‘it’s unfair’, try to use visual imagery in your mind to let go of those thoughts. You might imagine writing that thought down on a pebble, placing it into a flowing stream and watching it float away, or you might imagine that thought looking like a train, watching it arrive and then leaving the platform.
Remind yourself that you are simply the observer of your thoughts and feelings and you are not your thoughts and feelings themselves. If you struggle to let go of the thoughts, which is common, then notice how holding onto the thoughts continues to impact how you are feeling. Try to understand where your thought is coming from and why it feels so intense. Then try to let go again.
Control your breathing. By engaging with relaxed breathing, you will take your focus away from the angry thoughts and force your mind to focus on relaxation. In addition, if you can breathe in a relaxed manner, this will signal to the rest of your body that you are calm now and other physical anger symptoms will also begin to switch off.
Try the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique: breathe in slowly through your nose for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight. If you can’t engage with the exercise for the seconds recommended, then adjust the technique to suit you. The aim is to take a slow breath in through your nose and a longer and more controlled out breath through your mouth.
When we feel angry, often this is because someone or something (even ourselves) has broken a rule that we live by. This is apparent when we have thoughts such as ‘I would never have done/said that’ or ‘it’s not fair’. Try to understand where your anger is coming from, has someone broken a rule that you live by? Do they simply have a different rule that they live by?
Understanding what is feeding your anger can help you to gain better control over the anger and begin to plan what you can do about the situation that has occurred.
Part of being mindful is allowing yourself to feel a certain way, even if you are concerned that your emotions are invalid. Finding an outlet, such as intense physical exercise, a calm activity such as reading or even journaling can help some people manage their emotions. Once you discover your outlet, give yourself enough time to express your feelings alone before confronting others. Understand in your own way, why you are angry, and direct this energy at something constructive rather than at a specific person.
If you’re in a situation where you’re finding it difficult to remain calm, practise taking a step back, figuratively, and observe with a new perspective. Assessing the situation from an observer’s point of view can be hugely beneficial to those with anger management issues. You can begin to understand that you’re simply the observer of your thoughts and emotions – these things neither control you nor define you, and there are ways to manage them.
If you’re feeling anger towards a specific person, in some cases it can be beneficial to your mental health to discuss your feelings with them. As you communicate, stay aware of your feelings, physical sensations, and continue being mindful of both yourself and the other person. Encourage yourself to portray less aggression and more honesty, and you will be far more likely to have a productive conversation.
When communicating what has made you angry, try to use statements beginning with ‘I’ and not ‘you’, as the latter can sound accusatory and trigger an aggressive exchange in communication. For example, say ‘I felt let down on Thursday evening because I thought you were deliberately late’, then stop, let the other person acknowledge your feelings and respond. An example of a ‘you’ statement is ‘you deliberately turned up late on Thursday evening and that has made me angry’. This type of statement can quickly lead to things escalating and your feelings remaining unacknowledged.
In addition, you should try talking to friends and loved ones about your anger management. Having a strong support network around you will mean you are more likely to follow through with regular mindfulness practices, and have more success in learning to understand and manage your own emotions.
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