Anger is a normal human emotion, a reaction to something or someone that we feel has wronged us in some way. Like most emotions, it provides the basis for a stronger reaction than necessary if we allow our minds to run away with our thoughts. And it is a way that we grasp at what we believe is the right and correct order of things when in actuality no such order exists.
For those who work in service or ‘helping’ professions, there is often an element of anger that creeps into one’s daily routine. And on some level, that’s ok. Anger can be a powerful motivator. It can cleanse, like fire, consuming everything in its wake and leaving a clean slate. It can open the way for frank discussion of a difficult topic. But like fire, it can get out of control.
A lot of anger management techniques are based on what you can do to change the way you experience your anger. This makes sense, because ultimately you can only control yourself and your reactions to things. You cannot control events or other people, and recognizing this is a huge step towards gaining control over your angry feelings. Remember, there will always be reasons for anger, and some of them will be quite legitimate. The goal is to find ways to control anger that may be causing you suffering in other aspects of your life. Some techniques that have been shown to be successful include these:
- Don’t Dwell on the Issue: Frequently when you become angry, you continue to replay the scenario that led to your anger in the first place. You may be looking for evidence of your own reasonableness or of the ways another person provoked you, but regardless, replaying the episode this way causes your emotions to replay them as well. It’s like keeping a wound from healing by constantly ripping off any scab that forms. Try to let go of the event by concentrating on finding a resolution or, if one has been reached, moving on to other business.
- Be Less Demanding: Research shows that angry people have a tendency to demand things. They want many of the same things others do, but when they don’t receive those things, they are less successful at dealing with the disappointment they feel. Instead of feeling that you must demand the things you want, try to frame your needs as requests and be prepared to negotiate a solution that works for everyone.
- Watch Warning Signs: Get to know yourself and how it feels when you are spinning out of control and into the grip of anger. The sooner you realize what’s happening, the sooner you can apply techniques and methods for calming it down before it escalates.
- Improve Communication: People who get angry easily often do so because they jump to conclusions. These conclusions are based on previous incidents or the perceived characteristics of others. Instead of reacting to what others are saying, slow down and listen to what they actually say. React only to what is stated, not to what you believe lies behind it. Being slower to react to emotions is definitely crucial to controlling anger.
- Avoid Triggers: There are plenty of random events that we have no way of knowing will happen. But there are other events that we know will trigger our sense of frustration and may lead to angry outbursts. So why not avoid these to the best of our ability? For example, if you are always angry because of morning traffic, make an attempt to leave the house earlier. Or if you get easily angered when grocery shopping after work, try to shop at a different, less stressful time for you.
Mindfulness Reduces Anger
There are many other techniques we can use to try to control our anger, but in the end the goal is to become less reactive to things that upset us, to relax.
Relaxation techniques are key to helping us in many situations, including managing anger. There are many ways to relax, and no one way or method is right for everyone.
- Focus on breathing
- Yoga or other movement based practice
- Cardio exercise such as running or cycling
All of this really comes down to developing some kind of mindfulness practice within your life. Something that takes you out of yourself–the everyday self that is mired in the world, that gets tired, that gets sad, that gets angry–and allows you to tap into your deepest sense of what it is that makes you happy.
It could be an activity like those listed above, or it may be writing, dancing, photography, spending time with your pets, stamp collecting, or a million other things. Sometimes these activities have a spiritual aspect for the practitioner but they don’t have to.
Any activity that puts us into the here and now, that makes us appreciate the moment we are experiencing right now, no matter how challenging it is, is suitable for the development of mindfulness.
Get Back in Touch With Love
Left unchecked, anger produces an emotional and spiritual landscape that is all too similar to the charred forest left behind by a wildfire. It consumes and leaves nothing in its wake. The resources needed to care for others, or even oneself no longer exist, and it can take years to recover.
Some people never do recover, becoming permanently angry and increasingly bitter until they can no longer nurture or care for anyone or anything. This is often referred to, appropriately enough, as burnout. Anger can motivate, but it does not renew one’s commitment.
Today, while doing some reading, I was reminded of a story recounted by Thich Nhat Hahn. While addressing a conference of environmental activists, Hahn was asked what activists should do in order to curb environmenutal devastation. His response was that they should place their hands upon the earth and listen to its cries.
This was clearly not the answer the activists were hoping for. What about taking action, protesting, doing something?
But Hahn understood that the problems that lead to the ecological crisis in the first place are not easily fixed, and that they often arise from a disconnection with our love and reverence for nature. He invited the activists to get back in touch with the emotion that had motivated them to become involved in the cause in the first place: love for the earth, its beauty and its resources.
This love is always there and available to us if we can simply open ourselves up to it.
And, unlike anger, it is self-renewing.
When we love, we open our hearts, and this causes great joy, but it also exposes us to great pain when that which we love is harmed. Our anger over the situation can sometimes motivate us, but it we do not control it, it can lead to burnout and to increased conflict as we blame others and divide ourselves from them.
On the other hand, our love can provide all the fuel we need to find the strength to protect that which we love. This is the emotion that we all need to reconnect with from time to time, because it can fade from our attention so easily.
Love for our homes, love for our friends, our families, our lives, for the sun, for the flowers, the cold winter air, the warm summer sun, for our breathing, for life that happens all around us every day. It is this emotion that gives us the ability to face the challenges of another day.