7 Steps to Kicking the Anger Habit

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There’s something sickeningly fun about flying off the handle. But the raised blood pressure and wake of problems that can result are clearly not doing you – or anyone around you – any good. Chronic anger is like psychic pollution. It ruins everybody’s mood. Here’s how to clean up your act.

When anger strikes, move a mountain. Run up a hill, swim laps, find a punching bag, do anything physically exerting to help get that tension out of your body.

If you can’t escape, breathe. That’s it, just breathe. Now take another breath. Ok, another one. Breathe in slowly through your nose, noticing the breath moving into your body, and slowly and fully breathe out. Feel better? (Another trick to quickly relieve tension: when you’re sitting at your desk, reach your hands up to the ceiling  and gently weave back and forth to loosen your spine.)

Attempting to control anger is futile if you aren’t addressing the root problem. We get feelings for a reason – they need to come out! If you’ve been repressing anger, make a private space and then let yourself feel it. Relive the situation and feel the rage. Scream, cry, punch your pillow (but not the wall!) and do whatever you need to safely release the emotion so you can then constructively analyze the situation. It’s fine to “save up” your anger for a time when you can healthily expel it; you don’t want to rage in the moment, when you might say or do something you’ll later regret. But don’t squash your anger. That’s a recipe for depression.

Be empowered. Once you’ve calmed down (this may take hours, even days!) and can express yourself rationally, talk to the person who ticked you off. You might not get the response you were hoping for; what’s important is that you did your part. Even if you are nervous or doubting yourself, say what you need to say as best you can. This will also help you learn when to walk away before getting angry again.

If you’re angry about something in the world or your lifestyle (like being stuck in traffic for 2 hours a day), use your anger as an impetus to change. This powerful energy can fuel the fire of positive action. I actually believe anger is healthy, if used appropriately. When we feel anger it’s a powerful signal to change something that feels wrong. Whether the “wrong” is the situation or some inaccurate script you’ve trained your ego to believe and live by, anger means it’s time to reconsider.

Acknowledge that sometimes you feed yourself with your anger. Bringing up that old grudge gives you a certain “I’m right, you’re wrong” ego satisfaction. But look a little closer: does holding that grudge really make you happy? This can actually become a toxic habit where you’re always looking for the next thing to fume about. It’s like a dog licking a wound and making it worse. You’re better served by focusing on positive change than listening to runaway mind chatter. If you feel “stuck” on the anger cycle, you may need to consider if low self-esteem is the real problem. Find positive ways to improve your feelings of worth so that you are less inclined to feel the need to feed your ego with angry thoughts.

Forgive, without necessarily forgetting. You don’t have to condone someone’s actions, but when you forgive them (acknowledging that we’re all human beings who have faults and make mistakes), you release something inside yourself too. Holding a grudge takes up your precious energy, while forgiving opens you up to experience bigger and better things. Often we don’t like to forgive because it feels like we’re letting the person get away with what they did wrong. But holding on to the memory emotionally means you’re constantly reliving the nonexistent past in your very real present – and if that isn’t letting the offending person win, I don’t know what is.

Still steamed? Recommended reading:

Urban Monk
Think Simple Now
Mayo Clinic
Pick the Brain
Zen Habits

Image: silver.and.gold

– with additional reporting by Sara Ost