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Anger is as natural, neurologically, as our desire to eat and drink, to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Sometimes, anger is ok, like when we see or hear about injustice or cruelty and are motivated to respond (hopefully not in an out of control way). Most of the time, though, our limbic system goes into reactive mode and we respond to not-such-big deals in a big, bad way. How can you avoid blow-ups?
It’s something I work on every day. Sometimes I catch myself, voice raised and temper flaring, while lecturing my kids and I think, what am I doing? But it can be pretty hard to stop once I get going. I know that responding in anger is the number one way to assure that my children are not listening (no one does a great job understanding something when they’re angry or afraid).
I don’t like how I feel when I react in anger. Who wants to feel out of control, and respond to their anger in a way they aren’t proud of? I have 3 ways to deal with anger that I am working on making my anger history.
3 Ways To Deal With Anger In Your Life
#1: Remove Yourself
Removing yourself from the situation removes you as the target for another’s anger; it also prevents you from reacting in anger.
Sometimes a situation needs to be dealt with immediately (I’m thinking specifically of toddlers here!). Do what you have to do to stay safe or prevent danger, then excuse yourself. “I need to calm down.” “I’m too angry to deal with this the right way.” You not only put a stop to an angry argument, you serve as an example for how to deal with anger in a positive way.
I know that with my daughter, getting angry and engaging in a shouting fest is like throwing fuel on a fire. When I respond in anger, she blows up. She doesn’t hear me and she loses control. When I put a stop to the situation and deal with it when we’ve both calmed down, I get through to her much more effectively.
If you’re in a situation where you can’t give yourself a break (driving with screaming children comes to mind for some reason), do the best you can. Turn up the music and sing. Count or recite a poem in your head. Focus on something that isn’t the negative situation.
Breeeaaathe. Calming our breathing and giving attention to our breath pulls us back from the edge, giving us something to focus on other than our anger.
Proper breathing also has a number of physical benefits, like enriching our oxygen supply to our brain and bodies and ridding ourselves of toxins. It also helps calm us down! Sometimes we can be so amped up with anger, in full flight-or-fight response, that we need to release some of our energy before we can calm down. Punch a pillow. Shout (at no one). Do push-ups until you can’t. Let it out, and then breathe deeply.
#3 Think Before You Speak
If you remove yourself from the situation and calm down, you give yourself a chance to think about the situation in a rational way. You have calmed down and are able to think reasonably, and perhaps even see from the other’s point of view. Now you have the chance to respond in a productive way, knowing that you won’t have to regret your words or actions later. And of course, since we are all only human, if you struggle with remembering these three steps, you can always move on to step four- sincerely apologizing.
[Photo Credit: Asta Adamonyte]