5 steps to diffusing anger

Recently, I engaged in a heated debate.  Not a full-on argument, just the exchange of strong opinions.

I noticed how the adrenalin began to flow.  I suddenly felt supercharged as an upsurge of energy flooded my body.  The sensation was like a high, illustrating why anger might actually become an addictive though unwanted pattern.

Once the high quickly wore off, my body felt all churned up and ill-at-ease. I realized that I needed to apply my own medicine. As a highly sensitive person, I don’t need the extra chemicals coursing through my blood stream to the inner and outer reaches of my body.  But the truth is, anger isn’t healthy for anybody.

Medical doctors confirm that chronic anger is detrimental for your health.  It can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and possibly diabetes.  Getting all heated up with aggression and frustration activates the body’s “fight or flight” system, the adrenalin response, which puts the immune system on hold and has a whole series of other knock on effects.  As such, angry people are more likely to get sick.  It’s often advised not to eat when you feel angry because the digestive system has also been put on hold by the adrenalin response.  In addition to the physical effects, no one likes to be around an enraged, irritated person.

Now chronic anger may not be an issue for you, but most of us are prone to get ticked off now or then.  So what can you do when you feel overcome by the power of these impassioned emotions? The following five steps will help you become a master at diffusing anger.

Five steps to diffusing anger

1. First and foremost, remove yourself from the provocative situation, disengage from the conversation.  This is often difficult to do in the heat of the moment, but it will become easier with practice.  Develop one or two key phrases to rely upon to extract yourself from the interchange.  It can be as simple as, “I need to reflect on this more, can we talk again tomorrow?”  Another possibility might be, “I’m not feeling well and would like to discuss this again at a later point.”  The same approach applies whether its an in-person conversation, phone call, or online interaction.  Politely disengage.  Don’t write another comment or email response.  Don’t push the send button.

2. Go to a quiet place and breathe! Go outside for  a breath of fresh air.  Get in your car.  You can even take refuge in a toilet stall if your options are limited.  Whatever works! Slow, deep, regular breathing is one of the best ways to calm down the adrenalin response.  You can use any breathing technique you would like.  An  easy one is to simply breathe in as you count slowly to five and then breathe out as you slowly count to 5 again. Continue the same cycle of breathing until you feel a sense of calm.  It may take five minutes or it may take twenty minutes.

Focus your attention on the process of breathing.  Just watch your breath as you breathe in and breathe out. When your mind becomes distracted or a cascade of angry thoughts reappears, simply bring your attention back to the breath.  This is a very simple, basic form of meditation for calming the mind. Meditation has been medically documented to successfully calm the stress response. It will work if you give it a chance.

Once you feel calm, return to your regularly scheduled activity. Or you may just want to take a break and do something enjoyable to further de-stress your system. The anger may reappear over the course of the day or even for weeks to come.  Simply reapply the breathing technique and focus on the breath until the anger is diffused and you feel a sense of calm.  Repeated practice is the trick.

3. Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. When you feel sufficiently calm, perhaps later in the day, try to view the situation or problem from the other person’s perspective.  Why do they feel or think the way that they do?  Can you recall a time when you acted in a similar way?  Remember what you appreciate about the person. It may just be one behavior that’s triggering you off.  Consider what it is about the situation or behavior that is getting your goat. Sometimes, the behavior or the situation that annoys you the most represents a negative quality you abhor in yourself.  Just recognizing this alone can deflate the intensity surrounding the problem.

Use the analytical aspect of your mind to try to find a little crack in the anger where you can see a glimmer of understanding, commonality, tolerance, or even compassion.  Often, just creating more space around a problem or issue can open new possibilities for resolution.

If your anger is too strong, it might be impossible to engage in this step.  If that’s the case, continue with steps 1 and 2 every time the anger returns.    Don’t be hard on yourself if you find it difficult to accept or understand the other person.  Just make an aspiration to be able to do so in the future.  Some rifts take longer to repair than others.  The key is to have a positive intention.

4. Forgive yourself for getting angry. Everyone has a a lifetime of unhealthy habitual patterns in one form or the other.  You are not the only one with bad habits! These negative tendencies can definitely be overcome, but it takes time, practice, and patience. Be gentle with yourself.

5. Consider whether you are ready to forgive the others involved and let go.  If you are not ready, that’s understandable.  Again, simply make a heartfelt wish to be able to forgive in the future and continue using the steps above when feelings of anger or ill-will reappear.  You can revisit forgiveness once again once the anger wears away.

Consider your options

Chances are you will need to face the aggravating situation and person once again.  Whenever possible, only do so when you feel a sense of calm.  Do your best to have an open mind and clear heart.  Trying to see the situation from the other person’s perspective will help to create level ground and contribute to a more successful re-encounter.  If the situation seems impenetrable, another option is to ask a friend to mediate or to even hire a trained mediator.

In the end, there are only three ways to approach any particular situation that annoys you:

  • You can decide to leave the situation.  For example, if you dislike your boss you can quit your job.
  • You can decide to change the situation.  For example, you could ask for a transfer to a new department.
  • Or you can change how you view the situation. For example, you could decide to see working with a difficult boss as the ultimate, free training in cultivating patience and thus appreciate the opportunity.

Review the challenging situation in light of these three options and chose the best approach for you.

Anger is not healthy or fun for anyone.  Always remind yourself of the ill-effects of anger. You can decide right now to never again hold anger in your heart. Simply commit to transforming anger whenever it comes your way using these five simple steps.

How do you diffuse anger?  What works for you?

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Comments

  1. says

    Anger is very upsetting to me and I always end up feeling guilty in the end, so I hope I can always remember this post. Very much needed and thanks!
    Lisa

  2. varuni chaudhary says

    hi, Sandra,
    This was i real great post. Even though i am not usually angry, i find your tips on how to handle anger very useful.
    The ultimate free training in learning and testing patience bit was too good. Don’t we all know someone like this.
    Thanks for the tips.
    varuni

    • says

      Welcome Varuni, I am so happy to “see” you here. I appreciate your warm heart and am so glad to connect with you here at my blog. Thanks for commenting. Stay well.

  3. says

    Great information here!

    I have to let myself fully acknowledge the anger first and look for the trigger. Getting out of the situation for awhile is the most helpful, but when I can’t do that, I focus on my breath, and this helps me get control.

    Then, I remind myself that my thoughts are my choice, as are my reactions. 95% of the time, this works. We won’t talk about the other 5% :)

    • says

      Jean, You’ve added a very important point: acknowledging the anger first. Sometimes anger just simmer inside and eats us up and we aren’t fully cognizant of it until it hits the surface. The awareness you suggest can forestall bigger explosion. You are a dynamic woman so I can imagine what the other 5% of the time might be like!!!!! But it’s OK since we are all working on this together.

  4. says

    I think you have done a great job of covering all the bases in your post above. The way I see it life is too short and my health too precious to squander it by poisoning my “self” with anger and un-forgiveness. I disengage, acknowledge my anger, commence my Buddhist following your breath exercise and calmly examine the reasons for my anger. Then I forgive myself for getting angry and forgive any others involved without telling them I did so, and I move on.

    • says

      TimeThief, This is an excellent synopsis that could be printed out and posted as a reminder of the essential steps. Thanks for this helpful summary.

  5. says

    Hi Sandra!

    “Anger is not healthy or fun for anyone.” I’m completely agree with that words, is a bad medicine to our body. It provokes a lot of problems in our Nervous System, and in our emotions. I will try to control it when it tries to come. Good article, and a good advice to my body.

    http://livinghealthily.wordpress.com (this is a new project, I hope you visit it one day. I will be grateful)

    Best regards.

    • says

      Hi Viviana! Your new blog on finding peace mentally and spiritually is beautiful. I look forward to hearing more of your innermost thoughts on the topic. May it continue to evolve beautifully. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and add your voice on the perils of anger. All the best to you.

  6. says

    Hi Sandra,

    I use tip number three and forgiveness to let go of misunderstandings that I have with people. There was a low point in my life when anger was chronic and the bitterness is overwhelming. Thank goodness I overcame and could forgive. I vowed never to become that embittered again, it was a lesson well learned. Tips like you have written here can help anyone who really wants to overcome the heartache.

    • says

      Sandra – I can really resonate with what you have said. I too have had the challenge of chronic frustration and blame in my life. Like you, I’m so grateful to have moved on from that to a great degree. The vow you took to never become embittered again is so beautiful. I really admire you for that! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. All the best to you.

  7. says

    Hi Sandra

    I hope you are employing these techniques whenever you read my tweets or posts! Just kidding. I have been guility of ‘losing it’ in the past and even now to some point; but I have controlled my anger and frustration through breathing excercises (which also help my asthma) and by learning from and turning negative comments into positive outcomes.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Michael

    • says

      Hi Michael,

      It really helps to hear your success with breathing techniques for reducing anger and asthma. That’s awesome and so encouraging. Thanks for sharing about it here so others can be encouraged. All the best to you!

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