Anger can be caused by internal and external events. You might feel mad at a person, an entity like the company you work for, or an event like a traffic jam or a political election. Wherever the feelings come from, you don’t have to let your anger get the better of you. Here are some techniques to help you stay calm.
It’s hard to make smart choices when you’re in the grips of powerful negative emotion. Rather than trying to talk yourself down from a cliff, avoid climbing it in the first place. Try to identify warning signs that you’re starting to get annoyed. When you recognize the signs, step away from the situation or try relaxation techniques to prevent your irritation from escalating.
Don’t dwell. Some people have a tendency to keep rehashing the incident that made them mad. That’s an unproductive strategy, especially if you have already resolved the issue that angered you in the first place. Instead, try to let go of the past incident. One way to do that is to focus instead on things you appreciate about the person or the situation that made you angry.
Change the way you think.
When you’re angry, it’s easy to feel like things are worse than they really are. Through a technique known as cognitive restructuring, you can replace unhelpful negative thoughts with more reasonable ones. Instead of thinking “Everything is ruined,” for example, tell yourself “This is frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Simple relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help soothe angry feelings. If you practice one or more of these strategies often, it will be easier to apply them when angry feelings strike.
Focused breathing. Shallow breathing is angry breathing. Practice taking controlled, slow breaths that you picture coming up from your belly rather than your chest.
Use imagery. Visualize a relaxing experience from your memory or your imagination.
Progressive muscle relaxation. With this technique, you slowly tense then relax each muscle group one at a time. For example, you might start with your toes and slowly work your way up to your head and neck.
Improve your communication skills.
People often jump to conclusions when they’re angry, and they can say the first (often unkind) thing that pops into their heads. Try to stop and listen before reacting. Then take time to think carefully about how you want to reply. If you need to step away to cool down before continuing the conversation, make a promise to come back later to finish the discussion.
Get active. Regular physical exercise can help you decompress, burn off extra tension and reduce the stress that can fuel angry outbursts.
Recognize (and avoid) your triggers.
Give some thought to the things that make you mad. If you know you always get angry driving downtown at rush hour, take the bus or try to adjust your schedule to make the trip at a less busy time. If you always argue with your spouse at night, avoid bringing up contentious topics when you’re both tired. If you’re constantly annoyed that your child hasn’t cleaned his room, shut the door so you don’t have to look at the mess.
You can’t completely eliminate angry feelings. But you can make changes to the way those events affect you, and the ways in which you respond. By making the effort to keep your anger in check, you and the people close to you will be happier for the long run.