How to safely express anger
“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” (Buddha)
And isn’t that the truth darlings?
Anger is one of the seven deadly sins. But we all get angry, it’s a perfectly natural emotion to have. However, if we can’t hold onto it, we have to express it and this too generally tends to backfire as we react in ways we later regret, or do something that’s slightly embarrassing.
And let’s face it, we’ve all done something in the heat of the moment. Me? It was throwing a drink over someone. I’ve since learned there’s no way to reason with stupid. Would you agree?
So it seems like you just can’t win. You can’t hold onto anger because it eats away at you and you can’t express it because you’ll be the one in the wrong. How then can you help yourself, so that when feelings of anger arise you don’t bottle them up, but control them and work through the anger safely to arrive at a place of peace?
What happens when we get angry?
Whether you’re mildly irritated or have completely come to the end of your tether, when you get angry the left hemisphere of your brain becomes more stimulated. This part of the brain is the academic and logical side of the brain that deals, amongst other things, with analytical thinking, logic and reasoning.
And when you think about, that is why, when you get angry people say: “There’s no reasoning with them when they’re like that!”
As well as the activity in the left brain, when you get angry, your heart rate, blood pressure and testosterone production all increase. Which, of course explains why, when some people get angry they go red in the face and start clenching their fists. It would also explain why angry men sometimes let their fists do the talking!
But why do we get angry?
Anger is an emotion, just like love, guilt, pride and peace, and can be triggered by pretty much anything. Both internal and external factors can make you angry from someone cutting you up in traffic to brooding about life.
Past experiences and learned behaviour also play a part in how you express, and the severity of your anger. ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Dr Steve Peters, the book I mentioned in my article on Emotional Wellness, describes how your naughty chimp loads these past experiences into your brain where they get filed into one of the following:
- Autopilot – positive, helpful beliefs or behaviours
- Gremlins – negative, unhelpful beliefs or behaviours that can be reprogrammed into autopilots
- Goblins – negative, unhelpful beliefs or behaviours that are hard-wired and unchangeable
The good news is, that everyone gets angry, everyone has autopilots, gremlins and goblins and everyone can learn ways to release their anger safely.
What are the dangers of holding on to my anger?
In reality, by holding onto anger the only person who will suffer is you.
By letting anger eat away at you, you run the risk of becoming angry at everything and forgetting what is was you were angry about it the first place. By letting anger build up, you also run the risk of turning into the human equivalent of a volcano, simmering under the surface and then suddenly exploding, which is not a pretty sight.
Not to mention the significant impacts that suppressing your anger has on your physical health, such as:
- Increasing your chance of heart disease
- Increasing your chance of having a stroke
- A weakened immune system
- Increased anxiety and depression
What can I do to release my anger safely?
The first, and most important thing to remember is that everyone handles anger differently.
So you have to, by trial and error, discover what is the best way for you to deal with your anger and turn it from a negative, destructive feeling to a positive, constructive feeling. But here are a few ways that usually work.
Not only is going out and doing something physical, probably, the best way of releasing anger, physical exercise is also well known for its ability to instantly put you in a better mood. This is because exercise releases endorphins, the happy hormone, which help uplift and stabilise your mood.
Getting physical and working out also lets you redirect your anger into a healthy activity.
Here are just a few ideas to help you get started:
- Hit a ball. Giving a tennis ball, golf ball or any kind of ball a good thwack releases that pent up frustration. You could even channel your inner Serena Williams and grunt as you hit
- Hit a punching bag. Get on a pair of boxing gloves and like hitting a ball, release that pent up frustration on the bag. You could always imagine the punch bag is the person that triggered your anger.
- Go to the gym and work out your anger
- Go for a swim, a walk or even a run …
… anything, as it distracts your mind and helps you blow off steam.
Choosing an activity that you truly enjoy and will capture and hold your attention, is guaranteed to calm you down and leave you feeling much better.
Breathe, just breathe
The old saying: “Count to 10” is true for a reason, it gives you that little pause to stop yourself saying, or doing, something you may regret.
When you’re counting to ten, taking just a few simple, deep breaths activates your body’s calming reflex.
I’ve talked about the power of the breath previously, but in times of anger the following exercises are also great ways for you to calm down and refocus:
Focused breathing is all about taking slow, controlled breaths:
- Inhale through your nose to a count of four, and you inhale imagine the air going all the way down to your stomach
- Hold the breath for a count of four
- Exhale through the mouth for a count of four, and follow the breath out
- Hold for a count of four
Whilst you’re breathing you could also try some visualisation and imagine a relaxing environment, maybe a deserted tropical beach.
Something else you can try whilst doing your focused breathing is to use your hands. As you breathe in lift the hands up to your mouth and when you breathe out perform a pushing motion with your hands, almost as if you are pushing the anger out.
There’s a mantra I learned when I was younger: “In with anger, out with love,” which is also excellent to help calm and relax as you do your deep breathing.
Progressive muscle relaxation
This is best done whilst lying on the floor and move up through the body, starting with your feet.
It’s a very simple exercise, all you need do is slowly tense then relax each muscle group one at a time. This should help relax your body from the muscle tension caused by anger.
If you can’t lie down, sitting down is equally permissible.
Write out your anger
If you feel that you simply cannot express how you are feeling in a logical manner, then why not write it down.
The simple act of writing your feelings down on paper is very cathartic. Trust me, it’s how I got into writing in the first place. By expressing my inner thoughts, how I was feeling and what I was thinking helped me let go, learn and more importantly grow as a person.
Writing helps you to organise the clutter in your mind and sometimes helps you understand why you are feeling the way you are. Also, sometimes as you write you can come up with solutions to prevent a repeat of the situation, and ways to handle those types of situation differently in the future, which helps you re-programme those gremlins.
Even if you do nothing more than writing how you are feeling down and then burning, or throwing the paper away, it will certainly make you feel better.
Let it go
Sometimes in life, the best thing to do is simply walk away.
Whatever the source of your anger, it can be more beneficial to take a break whether this be a job, a relationship or something else. By walking away you are controlling the situation, saying to yourself: “I am not going to let this affect me anymore” and in the long-run your health will thank you.
Of course, it’s easy to say just walk away, but change is not easy, it never is. Sometimes though, it’s necessary for you own piece of mind.
Have you ever seen the Friend’s episode where Monica, Rachel and Phoebe burn photos of their exes, before the fire brigade turn up? It was Phoebe’s idea to have, what they call, a symbolic ceremony to remove negativity from their lives, not to mention the ghosts of boyfriends past.
Don’t mock it until you try it though. Maybe not burning your house down in the process, but there’s a great ‘shedding of anger’ ceremony that you could easily try.
- Go to an open space, ideally by the water’s edge
- Get a rock that fits into your palm. One that’s not too big or too small, but in the words of Goldilocks, just right
- Take a few deeps breaths (in through the nose and out through the mouth)
- Hold the rock tight and imagine all your anger and resentment being transferred to the rock
- When you’re ready, take a deep breath
- As you exhale throw the rock as hard and far as you can
- Watch it disappear
If you’re alone, you may want to yell or scream as you throw, which also expels more negative energy from your body.
Yes, it’s symbolic.
No, it won’t solve all your problems.
But it might just help you take that first step to resolving some long-held issues.
Change your thoughts
Buddha also said: “What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.”
Now, that also rings true when it comes to the Law of Attraction, but it can also help when it comes to controlling your anger.
After all, it’s so easy when you’re angry to fall into the trap of thinking things are much worse than they actually are, beating yourself up that it’s always your fault and wondering why these things always happen to you. Or is that just me?
Making simple changes to your language and thoughts, can go some way to replace negative thoughts with logical, rational ones, such as avoiding negative words like ‘always’ and never’.
And rather than demanding that you deserve this, that, or the other, why not try requesting your desires. This is a form of assertive communication and will help you get your point across succinctly and in a much friendlier way.
If you still need help, seek professional advice
If you find yourself still struggling to control your anger, it may be worth seeking professional advice. Therapists, counsellors and coaches can all provide you with advice, exercises and the skills you need to constructively, safely and assertively deal with your anger.
With the constant bombardment of information, fake news and social media is it any wonder the human race seems to be angrier now than it ever has been. But with all the political debates and the violence we see in society, are we letting too much get to us?
Should we just step back, breathe and just focus on things we can control, not those we can’t?
If we did that and felt more content, how would we feel? And if everyone did that, how much of a difference would that make in the world.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time darlings.