Anger isn’t always a bad thing. The emotion can serve as a useful tool when you’ve been treated unfairly and seek to rectify the situation. But blowing your top on a frequent basis? A definite no-no. Managing anger through mindfulness can calm you down before — or even after — the emotion becomes unhealthy.
Start by evaluating your body and thoughts the moment anger strikes
1. Assess body functions. Notice the sensations in your stomach, chest and face. Become aware of your rapid heartbeat and breathing rate. Observe clenching, whether in your fists or jaw.
2. Cool down. Breathe into the physical sensations of your body. Close your eyes if you want to. You may find counting out 10 breaths helpful. As you inhale, imagine the breath entering your nose and going into your belly. As you breathe out, imagine the breath going out through your fingers and toes.
3. Stay connected with the sensations. See the anger as an opportunity. Try to understand the feeling — how the burning sensation of anger rises up in your being; how your breath may or may not have a cooling effect on the flame within you. At all times, treat yourself with kindness and warmth.
4. Notice your thoughts. Swearing and thoughts like “It’s not fair” or “I’m not having this” feed anger. Notice how letting go of these thoughts affects you. If you can’t let go of the thoughts (which is common), continue to watch the way your thoughts and feelings feed each other.
5. Separate yourself. Take a step back from your internal experiences. Notice that you’re the observer of your thoughts and emotions, and not the thoughts and emotions themselves.
6. Communicate. As soon as the main force of your anger has dissipated, you may need to communicate your feelings with the other person involved. Begin by making “I” statements instead of “you” accusations. As you continue to communicate, stay aware of and awake to your own feelings, and let go of any aggression. Less aggression and more honesty are more likely to lead to a harmonious conversation and productive end result. Keep in mind that your tone of voice factors as heavily as your words, and speak as softly as you can. If you speak in an angry tone, the other person will most likely react angrily, and that could lead to a loud conflict instead of a reasonable conversation.
7. Be mindful of the thought patterns that feed your anger. These include:
- Overgeneralizing, e.g. “You always ignore me” or “You never respect me.” Be specific instead.
- Mind-reading, e.g. “I know you think I nag you too much.” Try to avoid making assumptions like this.
- Blaming others for your own anger, e.g. “You always make me angry” or “It’s all your fault.” Take responsibility for your own anger.
Next, incorporate mindful anger-management techniques
Cultivating a mindful attitude can reduce the frequency, duration and level of anger you experience on a daily basis.
8. Recognize that a strong emotion is present. Emotions can be such an integral part of your personality that you get swept up and react immediately. Begin with recognition — give the feeling due credit.
9. Don’t ignore. Sometimes the natural instinct is to ignore the “negative” feeling. Accept that in this precise moment, you’re experiencing anger. You aren’t being passive and giving in to the feeling. If you don’t accept what’s here now, you can’t hope to manage the emotion in any way.
10. Investigate your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Observe what’s going on in your mind, heart and body. What thoughts are running through your head? What feelings are you mindful of? What areas of your body feel tense, burning, warm or relaxed? Where is the core of the emotion located exactly, and what effect does a sustained mindful awareness have on the physical aspect of your experience?
11. Don’t identify with the emotion. Try to create space between you and your anger. It will likely to do what other emotions do quite naturally: come and go. But you don’t fluctuate — you remain constant.
Don’t expect to change overnight. Managing anger is a difficult process, so be patient. Forgive yourself when you revert to old patterns. You can’t expect to change the habits of a lifetime in a few weeks or months.