Anger is an important emotion to feel. It alerts you to the fact that you’re feeling provoked or wronged in some way. Thus, it’s bad to deny that you’re angry. Telling yourself or others you are “fine” only minimizes whatever the problem is that caused the anger in the first place.
What should you do instead? Be honest with yourself and reflect on what is causing the anger. Admit to yourself that you are mad, think about why you are mad, think about the consequences of acting on that anger, and try and address the issue. This is all part of what it means to be emotionally intelligent.
I’ve discussed forgiveness here a few times (Five Questions with Forgiveness Expert, Dr. Everett Worthington; Anger at God; The Value of Forgiveness) so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I think it’s a valuable anger-reduction strategy.
The most important thing about forgiveness is that it helps you stop ruminating. Continuing to think about the provocation, or ruminating, is a big part of what makes anger so problematic for some people. Forgiving the person who has wronged you is an important step toward letting go of those angry thoughts.
When people are angry, they are physiologically aroused (their heart-rate is increases, their muscles are tense, etc.). One way to address that is to take long, slow, deep breaths, using the diaphragm rather than the just the chest. Deep breathing is one of the best ways for people to relax, especially in a tense moment.
Anger, especially chronic anger, often leads to muscle tension, stiffness, and soreness. One approach to dealing with such tension is to stretch out those areas you tend to carry such tension (shoulders, neck, etc.).
There’s three steps to this process: (1) Identify your tension areas. Where, specifically, do you tend to get tight when you are frustrated. (2) Adopt a more comfortable and less tight posture. (3) Actively stretch those areas that are uncomfortable.
An “I” statement is a way of communicating frustration while minimizing blame and criticism. For instance, if you’re taking a trip and your flight is delayed, you can convey that frustration with a “you” statement like “You’ve delayed my trip” or an “I” statement like “I’m frustrated that my trip is delayed.” The latter is less likely to escalate the tension already present in the conversation and will make it easier for the two parties to come to a reasonable solution.
Physical activity has clear psychological benefits. This is particularly true with regard to our emotional well-being, as it’s known that exercise elevates mood. If you are feeling angry, take some time for your favorite physical activity. Even a brisk walk will do the trick.
People often find themselves thinking about angering events for days at a time. Such rumination only fuels the fire. Instead, try distancing yourself from the situation. Looking at your anger from an outside perspective will be help you see if your anger is reasonable or not. This simple mental exercise will likely reduce your anger and decrease any other negative thoughts you might be having.
If you find yourself consistently angry about another person’s failure to meet your expectations it may be a good idea to focus on the overall goal you are trying to achieve.
For example, if your goal is to meet a friend for dinner and leave enough time to catch a movie, but your friend is often late (making it hard to catch the movie in time). You could just ask him or her to meet you earlier. Leaving yourself, and them, enough time achieve your ultimate goal will leave you relaxed instead of tense. Paying attention to the big picture can help you plan ahead and avoid being angry when things don’t work out.
While blowing up is rarely the answer, holding your anger in isn’t good for you either. It may make you even more angry as time goes by. Instead, the first thing you should do is try to calm yourself down by whatever works for you (time to yourself, deep breathing, counting, etc.). Once you’re thinking clearly, make sure you EXPRESS your anger to whoever or whatever made you mad in a non-confrontational way. This will calm you down even more and help reduce anger quicker than trying to hold it in. Plus, it may help you solve whatever the problem was that started all of this in the first place.
An old joke begins with a police officer being called to a home by neighbors concerned over a shouting match in the home next door. As she approaches the front door she hears shouting from the home and a television is thrown out of the second story window crashing at her feet. Instead of becoming angry and increasing the tension of the situation she knocks on the front door and an angry male voice responds, “Who is it?!”. She yells back, “T.V. repair!” making the man laugh and diffusing the tension a little, allowing her to enter the home more safely.
In a tense situation, a joke could lighten the mood and put your feelings back into perspective. If you find yourself angry and not sure why, it may be a good idea to try to find the humor in the situation. Avoid sarcasm though, as this is not typically a constructive use of humor and may further hurt feelings.