I remember when my son Ari was a toddler. After his bedtime, he would leave his room, walk downstairs, and stand in the corner of the family room with his eyes closed. My husband and I quickly realized that Ari thought, “If I close my eyes 🙈, I bet my parents won’t see me.”
Anger, and other strong emotions like fear, doubt, and worry can be like that. Sometimes we think that if we close our eyes to anger and pretend it isn’t there, it will magically disappear. But that is simply not true. Until we acknowledge anger – see it, feel it, and manage it – it remains in the background, causing us to act out in unhealthy ways.
I see the same thing in my clients, friends, family, and self. Because there is a lot of confusion around anger, it is one of the emotions we struggle with the most. As a result, we often avoid dealing with our anger, and if we do, we may act it out in aggressive ways toward ourselves and others.
Ten Steps to Managing Anger
1. Say YES to Anger. Say yes to anger because it is trying to tell you something: danger is imminent, or someone has crossed a line. Accept it and allow the strong emotion to be present. You might even try saying “I feel angry” or “anger is here.”
2. Feel Anger in the Body. Allow yourself to feel how anger presents itself in the body. Physical symptoms can include increased heartbeat, rapid breathing, racing thoughts, a change in body temperature (sweaty palms and feeling hot in the neck and face), a feeling of agitation, and headaches.
3. Hit the Pause Button and Take a Break. Before you take action, wait. Try saying the phrase “The blood has left my brain, now is not a good time to make a decision.” Any strong emotion creates a physiological response in the body (a trigger) so you need to allow time for the emotion to settle and for the thinking brain to come back online. If possible, take a coffee break, and wait before responding. Click here for more information.
4. Connect to Your Body. Ground into your body by bringing attention to a neutral body sensation like your feet touching the floor or your hands resting in your lap. Or try a body scan. Click here to learn more about the body scan (and how it can also help you sleep better).
5. Breathe. Activate your rest and digest system by matching your breath to the count of ten, or by using the straw breathing technique. Click here to learn more.
6. Move. Give the emotion a way to move through and out of the body by trying an exercise like walking, running, yoga, or dancing.
7. Get Clear. Ask yourself, “What’s eating me? How might one of my values be violated? “
8. Be Wise. Ask yourself, “Is this something I need to work out with myself by taking some space and time to reflect or is this something I need to work through with someone else because they’ve crossed a line.”
9. Say Thank You. It may sound counterintuitive but have gratitude and recognize that any strong emotion is simply the body’s way of trying to protect you. Try saying something like, “Thank you anger. Thank you for trying to protect me.”
10. Take Appropriate Action. When you are no longer triggered, you are ready to take the right action, which often includes setting a boundary. Click here for more information on setting boundaries.
- Click here to read a recent Ten Percent Happier newsletter Making Anger Your Teacher by Zen priest, poet, and spiritual director of Everyday Zen Foundation Norman Fisher.
- For NYT’s subscribers, click here to read How to Have a Disagreement Like an Adult by Deepak Chopra.
- Click here to listen to the meditation RAIN: Mindfulness of Emotions by Jeff Warren (a meditation community favorite!)
- Click here to learn why emotions matter in school and to learn about RULER, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
In closing, keep in mind the mantra: This too shall pass. Keep reminding yourself that anger is a state of mind. If you take the time to accept it, feel it, see it, and allow the mind and body to settle – you will not only be able to take appropriate action steps but also build the skill of resilience.
And if you would like to join my free weekly community mindfulness meditation practice 🙏 via Zoom on Mondays at 7p EST, please email to learn more and sign up!
And as always, please email and let me know how you are doing and what tips you have for managing anger.
Stay healthy and well 😎