When you get angry do you simmer slowly or do you jump right to the point of boiling over? Everyone experiences anger differently, but if you let your fury get out of control, you may be putting your health at risk. A 2014 research study from Harvard School of Public Medical Health linked extreme emotional responses (i.e., anger) to cardiovascular incidents. For instance, in the few hours after an angry outburst, the risk of stroke tripled while the risk of a heart attack increased 5-fold. Findings showed that even though the danger of experiencing a sudden cardiovascular event after a single outburst was quite rare, that risk grows if you’re prone to frequent and uncontrollable rage. This means that learning to breathe, let go, and take back control during moments of anger is imperative to your heart health…
1. Just Breathe…
I’m a yoga instructor so breathing to bring focus inward and tune out external stressors is something that I absolutely believe in and employ in my classes. But don’t just take my word for it! Luckily researchers from Harvard Medical School agree—referring to deep breathing as one of the body’s soundest, internal self-recovery systems.
Deep breathing is breath drawn from the belly (or abdominal) and diaphragm—as you breathe in your diaphragm and lower belly rises as you inhale and deflates fully as you exhale. This full exchange of fresh oxygen for carbon dioxide can be used with a stress-busting mantra (i.e., “serenity now”) as your heart rate and blood pressure gradually and safely re-stabilizes.
2. Walk Off Anger
No, even though you might have the urge to run as far and fast as you can away from a conflict, I wouldn’t suggest doing so. However, excusing yourself from a heated argument before your anger gets the better of you is almost always a wise choice.
Take a break to calm down and walk of your fury in order to stimulate a few feel good chemicals. For instance, when you engage in physical activity the body releases endorphins, which trigger positive, relaxing feelings in the body.
3. Employ Humor
Have you ever been told to imagine your company chairman in his pajamas as a method of relaxation before a big work presentation? The reason why this works is because a little humor works well to defuse severe anxiety and calm the jitters.
According to studies from the American Psychological Association, the same method shows promise with bouts of anger. Envisioning your source of anger with a big red clown nose or a in a goofy hat can distract you from your fury just long enough to squelch a flaming temper, and prevent a physical altercation or snap decision (i.e. reckless driving or saying something you’ll later regret).
4. Pinpoint Causes of Anger
It’s way easier to sit back and point out unhealthy patterns in the lives of others than it is in our own lives. I dare you to watch an episode of your favorite reality television program without criticizing the faults of those onscreen. The same goes for pinpointing the source(s) of your own anger.
Hunger, lack of sleep, too little exercise, traffic, or certain people’s personality quirks can all rile us up. However, unfortunately, we don’t always have control if an accident occurs and holds up traffic or we miss lunch due to a long work meeting. Luckily, identifying your anger triggers can better help you avoid them or help you anticipate and learn to make the best of them (i.e., bring your lunch to work on meeting days so you’re not ravenous).
5. Count Slowly from 1 to 10
Derailing the rocket of fury is difficult to do once the preverbal fuse is lit. However, according to Harvard Medical School researchers, it’s not totally impossible. Several “time out” exercises can add pause to a potentially volatile situation before it spirals totally out of control.
So the next time you feel your fury boiling, take a moment to take a brief mental break and count slowly from 1 to 10 as you breath. If you need to, use a bit of visual imagery to whisk yourself away to a happy place—the beach, a lovely park, playtime with your pet—anything that triggers positive feelings and soothes your anger feelings.
6. Record your Feelings
Writing down your feelings has a two-fold approach. Firstly, recording your feelings in a journal or even in an email that you never send can greatly minimize anger and snap you back to reality. Secondly, writing your feelings down before you blurt them out and hurt another person can protect personal and professional relationships.
In fact, experts at the American Psychological Association greatly encourage writing down your angry feelings to help you get the blinding, hateful, spiteful words out of the way so you can get to the heart of the real issues. This healthy way of expressing anger keeps you respectful of others while ensuring your eventual response is constructive.
7. There’s No “I” in Anger
Often times when we fly off the handle at a friend, our child, our partner, or that poor lady we flipped off on the freeway—the anger is all about us. As a result we end up sounding selfish or appearing downright egotistical. However, it’s difficult to see things clearly when we’re boiling over with feelings of injustice and fury.
California-based psychologist, Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, claims that blinding rage is more often than not destructive anger created to scare off a mental, emotional, or physical threat to the ego. More precisely, anger can be a way of warding off feelings of powerlessness. So in the face of anger, dismiss your ego, try to see the big picture, and bring the focus back to issue at hand.