Your Guide to Defusing Anger

Here are 11 ways to take time for what matters and keep anger from messing up your life.

Photograph by Sebra/Dollar Photo Club

It’s amazing how often the little things in life cause us to blow our top—which is rarely constructive. Once an angry outburst is unleashed, it’s hard to get things back in perspective, and now you have to put the pieces back together. Anger isn’t a bad thing. It’s a necessary emotion. But letting it run wild is no fun either. Here’s a little toolkit of tactics and preventive measures to keep anger from messing up your life.

1. Recognize the warning signs that you’re getting ticked off

Do you notice rising irritation, a sense of frustration, increase in your breathing rate, or a quickening pulse? Take a moment to get things in perspective and explore your feelings.

Breathe mindfully for a few breaths as you notice your body sensations change. Listen for your thoughts without adding to the inner dialogue, or trying to silence them. What are your thoughts saying? It can take some patience to stick with the unpleasant feelings, but remind yourself to come back to observing the anger with self-compassion and discover what your anger has to teach you.

2. Know this: You have choices

Acknowledge that in many situations your only choice is how you react. During challenging times, remind yourself: “I have a choice here,” and choose not to waste your time wallowing in negative emotions.

3. Meditate!

Meditation slows down the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, and, as a result, relieves stress. In one trial participants in an eight-week mindfulness meditation stress-reduction program experienced significant reductions in reported daily irritation (24%) and psychological distress (44%), and the benefits were maintained three months later.

4. Eat!

Food can easily wind up low on the priority list, but when blood sugar drops and tummies grumble, it’s hard not to get irritable. Even a small snack can make all the difference to your mid-morning meeting. Be good to your body—when you’re physically uncomfortable, your mind can’t help but follow.

5. Sleep!

No amount of caffeine can replace a good night’s sleep, which is something most of us don’t get often enough. In the long run, insufficient sleep ups our risk of heart disease and diabetes. In the short term, we become groggy, foggy, and downright unpleasant to be around. When our minds aren’t well rested, we’re quicker to anger and slower to see reason. Take time to plan your daily schedule around a proper night’s sleep. And avoid coffee and alcohol for two to three hours before bedtime.

6. Spend more time with your dog, cat, bird, or fish

In a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers concluded: “People perceive pets as important, supportive parts of their lives, and significant cardiovascular and behavioral benefits are associated with those perceptions.” Indeed, pet owners have better than average survival rates after heart attacks and a lower risk of succumbing to cardiovascular disease in the first place. And older people who own pets are generally healthier and happier than those who don’t. You’ve heard it before but we’ll say it again: Petting a pet reduces stress, calms you down fast, and makes you feel better on so many levels.

7. Don’t yield to road rage

When someone forgets to signal or stops abruptly or is just making us #&@!@** late for work, we can be so quick to blow our stack. Even people who don’t swear much are suddenly hurling profanities. If you have this habit, you probably won’t eliminate it in one fell swoop, so make it a priority to notice when it comes up. Be curious about why it’s happening and why it’s so intense. The very act of repeatedly reflecting will begin to defuse it.

8. Stuck in line? Let go!

For some strange reason when we get in lines (or queues or snakes, as they’re called in some places) we tend to get antsy. If there’s more than one line, we start looking at the other lines and wondering whether we chose the wrong one. Before you know it, in your head you’re griping about the people ahead of you and how slow or stupid they are…just let it go. What good is it doing?

9. Roll with the interruptions

It’s easy to get totally fixated on our plan for the day (or the next hour for that matter), and anything that gets in our way, we just want to steamroll past. But let’s face it: Life is filled with interruptions. Get used to it. Embrace the disruption. It’s what keeps things fresh and interesting.

10. Go to your happy place

But first you need to have one! Designate a place in your home or apartment or out in nature or a public place where you can retreat to when you need to get away from it all. It could be that you go to practice meditation or do yoga stretches. Keep it free of clutter and make it as calming as possible.

11. Stop avoiding that person who really bugs you

Most of us have a petty nemesis, a bête noire, who just seems to get under our skin. Unless this person is truly malicious and requires an intervention (that’s another topic altogether), cut them some slack. Somebody loves them. Why not make it you.

How to End a Family Dispute

Make contact

Contact each family member involved by sending them a neutral, friendly email or card. If you don’t get answers, try until you have a response from at least a majority of key estrangees. Maintain a positive tone and ensure everyone knows you’re ready to leave the past behind and move forward.

Go slow

Don’t expect things to proceed quickly—there’s no low-hanging fruit or easy wins in trying to return to normal after long-term estrangement. Accept superficial contact as meaningful and take cues from other family members—they’ll probably approach you warily. Be friendly. Use a special occasion—e.g., a family wedding, a special anniversary, or the holidays—as an opportunity for forgiveness.

Lose the self-righteousness

Be open to everyone’s point of view, even if it makes you gag. Finger-pointing and name-calling get you nowhere but back to the feud—be willing to listen with open mind and heart.

Cancel your storyline as well as the reruns

Whether your sad tale involves betrayal, intrigue, cruelty, or mom always liked you best, it’s time to retire the storyline and get past what you feel is an injustice against you. No matter who did what to whom, no one should waste anymore time thinking about it.

Don’t expect apologies and be ready to forgive

Forgiveness is powerful. The minute you really mean it, all the anger, resentment, and hatred will disappear instantly. Forgiveness brings peace.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Mindful magazine.
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