When is the last time you felt angry? Do you remember the way your heartbeat sped up? Was there tension in your muscles and a feeling that you might explode?
Anger is a fundamental human emotion. It’s something we all have in common.
But anger is just an emotion. It doesn’t define us or determine our actions.
The bigger problems come from what we do with the anger.
Anger can help create an important change in our lives and even society. It can show us areas of relationships or our own mindset that need work. On the other hand, we’ve all seen the devastation when anger is expressed through violence or retaliation.
Now is a great time to decide what we want to do with our anger the next time it surfaces, whether it’s during a political discussion because we feel ignored, due to a thoughtless action of a family member, or any other reason. Having a plan in place will help us live how we really want to. If staying calm through that anger is part of our hope, here are some ways to do that.
Three Tips to Stay Calm When You Feel Angry
There are many ways to stay calm when you feel angry. Here are three powerful ones.
1. Take a Step Back
If a driver cuts us off, slow down. When a child’s or coworker’s behavior angers or frustrates, take a step away. Physically moving back from the angering situation gives us space. It’s an immediate signal to lower our confrontational feelings. The physical space also gives us a figurative space to think.
2. Take Three Slow, Deep Breaths
Our breathing is one of the simplest ways to regulate our bodies’ physical reactions. When we focus on our breath and lengthen each one, we send a powerful message to our brain to calm down. Everything will be okay. We don’t need to be in fight-or-flight right now. Our brain sends that message to our bodies, helping to slow our heart rate, relax our muscles, and bring the thinking brain (rather than just the reactive one) into play. The small action of slow, deep breaths in and out packs a powerful punch.
As we breathe slowly, we practice mindfulness. We can check-in with how we feel and what’s happening with our body. We can acknowledge the anger, accepting it as a human emotion, and then choose how we want to move forward.
3. Connect with Your Why and Reappraise
As humans, we have an incredible capacity to choose and act. Remember, anger does not have to define us or determine our actions. So while we’re calming the body, we consciously choose how we want to think and what we want to do next.
Connect with your why. What is your intention and motivation in your relationships? How do you want to treat people, and why? If we’re looking at studies about happiness and age-old wisdom, compassion is an important part of our motivation.
His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
A helpful way to find compassion in moments of anger is to reappraise. This is looking at the situation again from a different perspective that helps us feel better about it.
For example, when a driver cuts us off, and we think, “What a jerk!” we might instead wonder if his wife is in labor. If a child yells and we’re angry at being disrespected, we could reappraise to think that this situation is not about me; rather, it’s my child trying to communicate a difficult feeling. When a coworker says something offensive, instead of thinking, “She is so rude!” we might think, “Maybe she’s having a hard day.”
Studies consistently show that reappraisal decreases negative emotions, increases positive emotions, and strengthens relationships. That’s a powerful way to stay calm when you feel angry.
Lastly, while it’s really helpful to know how to stay calm when you feel angry, it’s also helpful to learn how to prevent some of that anger, how to become more anger resilient. This is especially important if we feel angry more often than we’d like.
In general, we prevent anger when we do things that bring more peace and calm into our lives. For example, mindfulness meditation has been shown to make people more resilient to stressors. Positive self-talk, exercise, and general self-care help people feel calm. It’s also a good idea to set-up routines and systems that help us get the necessary tasks done with less stress. A focus on meaningful connections with others also brings a lot of peace.
As we do these things, we’ll find that anger response is becoming less and less frequent in life. And whenever it does show up, we’ll know how to handle it. We’ll know how to step back, breathe deep, and reappraise with compassion.
You’ll know how to stay calm, even when you feel angry.