Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How to Catch Anger Before You Lose Your Cool

Running Dogs

In my first post on transforming anger, I spoke about the detriments of anger and how – for your own well-being – it’s virtually never beneficial to act it out.  I also shared two foundational steps to help you dilute the powerful hold anger may have over you:

Step 1:  Don’t Get Mad At Yourself

When you get into a lather, don’t compound it by getting mad at yourself too.  Though you may feel a healthy regret for certain words you’ve spoken or actions you’ve taken, alway accept yourself with love and compassion.  At the same time, commit to transforming your response to anger.

Step 2:  Fully Embrace the Dangers of Anger

Fully convince yourself that acting out anger brings no good whatsoever.  That doesn’t mean you should suppress anger, be afraid of it, or that a spark of anger cannot bring important insights.  It simply means to reflect on the negative effects of anger again and again until you lose your appetite for engaging in it.

Then, you’ll have the impetus to pause and work skillfully with anger when it does arise.  You’ll be able to respond to inner distress and external anger with love, kindness, patience, and tolerance instead of spewing angry words.  This can be accomplished through the practice of reflection.

Read the full details in my first post:  Is Anger Depleting Your Happiness?

Today, we’ll go further and explore:

  • How you can intercept anger before it has you in its clutches
  • The importance of making amends

Step 3:  Catch Anger Before It Catches You

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor E. Frankl

Did you know there’s a gap between thoughts?  It might not seem that way if your mind produces 10,000 to 50,000 thoughts each day – the usual range for the average person.

Most people don’t realize there’s a gap between thoughts, and you can actually learn to extend it through the practice of mindfulness meditation.  The answer isn’t in the gap alone, but depends upon the ability to sustain your present moment awareness as well.

Mindfulness is a gateway to greater peace of mind. When you cultivate mindfulness, you’ll find it much easier to catch anger before it catches you.

So to begin, just start noticing when there’s a gap between your thoughts and, if you can, rest there a moment.  Do this first thing in the morning, as often as you can during the day, and last thing at night.

10 Ways To Catch Anger Before You Lose Your Cool

Anger and its associated feelings and behaviors are learned habits that have been reinforced through repetition.  Like any habit, they can be changed, and you can learn positive ways to work with anger.

Experiment with the following methods for transforming anger and see which ones work for you.

1.  Take Responsibility for Your Anger
Anger is an internal experience that belongs to you.  No one makes you angry.  Shift your focus from the external trigger to your internal response.  That’s what you can change.

That doesn’t mean other people’s actions are always justifiable.  It means, however, that you can choose your response to them.

2.  Know Your Early Warning Signs of Anger
Sometimes, anger hits you out of nowhere.  But often indignation or rage gradually builds up because you haven’t paid attention to your early warning signs.  So start tuning into those personal warning signs.  Here are a few common ones:

  • Repetitive thoughts like, “That’s not fair.”  Or, “If she says another word, I’m going to explode.”
  • Physical sensations like a pounding heart, muscle tension, or heat in your neck and head.
  • Physical reactions like pacing, fidgeting, or clenching your fists.

The key is to know your own early warning signs. Make a list.  Practice paying attention to the signs and then take preventative action long before you blood begins to boil.

The capacity to simply notice as soon as you feel unsettled could transform your life. [Tweet]

3.  Pause
When you feel angry, pause.  Anger can increase your heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure. It also releases stress hormones into the blood.

Pause, take a few breaths, and bring your mind home.  This will counteract the physical arousal that has been set in motion, help you find more calm, and increase your ability to think clearly.

If you’re in the middle of a discussion with someone, ask for a break.  Say you need time to think things over.  You also have the right to leave a situation entirely if you are being treated abusively.

Often, the secret to working effectively with anger is to pull back rather than push forward. [Tweet]

4.  Sleep On It
The unconscious mind processes our experiences and emotions as we sleep.

After a good night’s sleep, your anger may have diminished.  When you wake up, you might have a fresh perspective on the upsetting situation and no longer be so disturbed.

However, sometimes we wake up as livid as when we fell asleep.  If that’s the case, work with some of the other techniques provided here.

5.  Invoke Positive Emotions

Love is a powerful antidote to anger.  If someone irks you, instead of focusing exclusively on the irritation, try to think of his positive qualities and recall your favorable feelings for him.  Ideally, this will counterbalance your displeasure and may dispel your anger entirely.

If you don’t have positive feelings for the person, please read:  How to Feel and Be Compassionate Towards Someone You Dislike.

6.  Cultivate Understanding

Try to view the situation from the other person’s eyes.  Listen and ask questions instead of immediately responding with anger.  Be friendly, conciliatory, and receptive.

What’s motivating their action?  Are they driven by a deep hurt within or an embedded dysfunctional pattern?  With greater understanding, you’ll increase your chances of building honest communication and perhaps even a stronger bond.

“If we could read the secret histories of our enemies we should find sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”  Longfellow

7.  Honor Your Own Heart

The ability to have emotions is a precious quality that can connect you to your heart and enhance your ability to feel compassion for yourself and others.

When you feel anger, look within and be inquisitive.  Ask:

  • “Why do I feel in such a rage?”
  • “Does this remind me of an earlier time?”
  • “Is there a lesson to be learned here?”

Often, tender spots developed during our childhood years, which have yet to be healed.  Strong emotions can be a sign and a doorway into profound healing when you take the time to look within.

8.  Soothe Yourself

Chances are, your feelings are hurt or you feel misunderstood.  If that’s the case, soothe yourself with calm, affirming words.

  • “Everything will be okay.”
  • “I’m fine just as I am.”
  • “I love myself.”
  • “I trust my intuition about this situation.”

9.  View the Challenge Differently

People who anger us simultaneously give us the opportunity to cultivate love, compassion, tolerance, and patience.  When we understand that angry people are not in control of their emotions, it’s easier to give rise to understanding and compassion.

That is spiritual and personal growth, which might be near impossible without an irritant here or there.

So instead of seeing an angry person as a headache, consider that they are giving you a precious gift:  the chance to grow.  That doesn’t mean you should set yourself up for abuse.  Just see if you can shift your attitude and possibly turn the situation around when anger enters the scene.

10.  Get the Help You So Deserve

The ability to communicate effectively is not necessarily an inborn trait.  As children, we typically emulate those around us.  If you learned to respond with anger as a child, it’s not your fault.  And, this can be a difficult habit to break.

If anger is too constant a companion, find a therapist, check out an anger management courses, or consider learning Non-Violent Communication, which is based on understanding your own feelings and needs.

Select two or three techniques from the above list and then practice them regularly – until you can respond to anger in a neutral or positive way.  Always try to remember that responding with anger will most likely fuel more anger, regrettable words, and unsavory actions. With practice and determination you can learn to respond peacefully instead.

Step 4:  Make Amends

Anger makes a dent in the trust we’ve built with others.  And that can be difficult to repair.  So it’s truly best to make amends right away before distrust solidifies.

It wasn’t always the case, but now, whenever I lose it, I apologize as soon as I can.  I’ll bring some chocolate covered macaroons or a cool drink as a peace offering.  And, I use the four steps of Ho’oponopono to try to make things right:

  • I’m sorry.
  • Please forgive me.
  • Thank you.
  • I love you.

If the other party isn’t receptive to a peace treaty, at least make amends in your heart.  Ask silently for forgiveness and send love to disperse any anger you’ve expressed.  Be sure to forgive yourself too.

Transforming Anger In a Nutshell

You might think anger is not an issue for you if you’re not boiling mad day in and day out.

But anger comes in many shades and colors.  Although anger is typically considered hot, it can be ice cold too as in giving someone the “cold shoulder.”  Frustration, irritation, annoyance, impatience, and exaggeration could be chronic low-level forms of anger eating away your joy.  And, depression is sometimes described as anger turned within.

Let’s do all we can to eliminate anger in all its forms, and instead bring peace and happiness wherever we go. Here are the 4 steps to transforming anger in a nutshell.

  • Step 1:  Don’t Get Mad At Yourself
  • Step 2:  Fully Embrace the Dangers of Anger
  • Step 3:  Learn to Catch Anger Before It Catches You
  • Step 4:  Make Amends As Soon As You Can

Read about the first two in Is Anger Depleting Your Happiness and the last two right here.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra


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  1. Excellent tips, Sandra! And very timely, for me, as I’ve been experiencing more anger than usual lately. 🙁

    One thing that my therapist told me was that we experience anger when we misunderstand why someone has done (or is doing) something. Keeping that in mind has allowed me to search for the misunderstanding, rather than to focus on (or act upon) my anger.

    • That’s a wonderful insight from your therapist, Bethany. It’s like building in “the benefit of the doubt” to our exchanges, which can be such a wonderful way to stay open and receptive and clarify the misunderstanding.

      Thanks for sharing that tip with us. It’s a powerful one.

  2. Jean Sampson

    I am glad that you brought up the “cold” aspect of anger because that is often overlooked and can be used as a weapon intended to inflict hurt just as much as the obvious hot anger, maybe even more because it can continue for a long time. It can be the final outcome of a hot outburst, too. Catching anger before it flares is a decision to become aware of your own feelings and then make another decision as to what to do with and about them. I know someone who actually uses her hair-trigger and, I think, inappropriate anger, to get what she wants. She says that nobody is going to take advantage of her, and therefore, she is looking for exactly that everywhere she goes. She likes the “power” of her anger, even though it makes her look like a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum. She does this even before she has a calm, rational conversation with whomever she is angry with. And under all of that patterning, she has a heart of gold. Go figure! I think she feels extremely vulnerable and that anger keeps her safe in the world. And she does NOT want to talk about it! I am just glad that I am able to see beneath it to that sweet and SO sensitive heart of hers. But I wish she could feel safe without the anger that is just WAITING to leap out.

    • Dear Jean, I appreciate how you describe the cold anger. This is so true that it can be the next level after the hot anger, when you don’t even want to look the person in the eyes. And, that can feel so hurtful!

      We certainly have complex patterns that developed in our early years. I feel for your friend. She’s so lucky to have a friend like you who can see through it all to her sensitive heart. It can be so hard and even frightening to see and let go of those deeply-held patterns. They can feel so protective as you suggest. It would be wonderful if she could feel safe without the anger. You never know when something might happen that will help her see the light. Reality can sometimes suddenly set us off in a new direction even after many years. I’ll hold that wish for her too, hoping she finds all the safety and happiness she deserves.

  3. I look forward to your prompts for the mini mindfulness. Encouragement is always needed.

    • Thanks for letting me know, Joanna. I can’t wait. I think it will be fun and it’s so helpful to feel held and connected as we try to develop our best habits. Encouragement helps me too!

  4. Two points you make that work well in my life Sandra. Not only for anger, but for less volatile upsets too. Feeling upset about a situation, my go to remedy is to say “I choose love”. If it doesn’t help on the first saying, I’ll keep saying it until it does!
    And I’m a great believer in giving myself time to manage my feelings by asking for permission to leave the discussion and revisit it in a hour or two, or even the next day.
    I think you offer great techniques to support hot or cold anger and I thank you for shining your light. 🙂 We can all use reminders as we choose to live and higher and higher levels of being.

    • Love is so powerful, Elle! Thanks for underlining that. Persistence is the key, isn’t it? We can’t expect to change how we respond the first time out (though we might get lucky), but with practice it becomes easier and easier.

      Thanks for showing us how you successfully use these two techniques. It’s so inspiring. Thank you!

  5. Hi Sandra,

    I have always experienced spontaneous anger, outbursts, felt like my blood was boiling but slowly with great effort, I have learnt to pacify myself by embracing positive emotions and understanding, by talking to myself, by reminding myself that ‘this IS anger’…beware!…it is attacking again…resist, resist its attack!’ Many times mindfulness has helped, at other times I have to tell myself…it’s futile to get upset, it burns me more than the perpetrator.

    I have seen all the shapes and colours of anger. Nothing is more frustrating than cold shouldering somebody. I follow what you suggest: ‘If the other party isn’t receptive to a peace treaty, at least make amends in your heart.’
    Thanks for suggesting so many positive ways of handling anger.

    • Dear Balroop,

      I’m so inspiring by how you’ve trained yourself to respond to anger in a different way. The approaches you have used are excellent. And, you are so right, it’s futile to get angry as it usually harms us more than the perpetrator.

      There’s so much wisdom in your experience. Thank you so much for sharing. This is how we can all learn from each other.

  6. My secret tip for dispelling anger is to allow myself to be angry.I find the acknowledgement of feeling angry dispels the energy far quicker than trying to change it. Coupled with this is taking responsibility for my actions to not harm others in the process and observing for what is lying underneath. Anger can also be a great tool for Listening to what is calling us forward within.

    • Hi Lorraine,

      I think we’re on the same page. I don’t suggest suppressing anger but rather being aware of it when it arises, which seems to be in sync with what you are suggesting. I agree, as you say, that awareness alone can dispel angry energy quite quickly depending on our mindset.

      I appreciate your insights. Thank you so much for sharing them!

      • Mindset is key. I’ve seen so many people afraid of feeling anger they’ll do anything not to go there. That only serves to add fuel to the fire. Anger allowed to flow appropriately is far different than suppressed anger released once in a while.

  7. Thank you for this post, Sandra. (And glad to see you back and love the new site design!)

    I’ve tried some of these different techniques you’ve mentioned but glad to have it all here in one place to use the right tool at the right time to diffuse anger. Your first point made me smile because after I get angry, the next thing I do is get angry for having been angry. ha! so, not getting mad at myself is a good first tip in those instances anger does arise.

    And secondly, I like all the tips you give to detect anger and to be on the lookout for it. So when it does arise, we’re more aware of it and attuned to it. And hopefully with enough practice, we are able to catch anger in the “pause” and scale it back.

    • I’m not surprised you know how to handle anger well, you are so dedicated to personal growth. I’m glad I could add one little tip to your menu of not getting angry at yourself! Having the power to pause is huge and that does take practice, but has such a big payoff.

      I’m so glad you like my new blog design!

  8. The gift of mindfulness can’t be underestimated, and I love your step-by-step process and simple tips for working through anger. A good night of sleep, along with reframing the situation, always helps me to stop feeling angry, or at least work through it in a way that feels more soothing! Thanks Sandra for another informative post!

    • Thanks for sharing the tips that work for you, Stacey! A good night’s sleep is just a marvelous cure for almost anything really. And when we reframe the situation, we’re using the power of our perception to see more clearly and that can only bring us happiness.

  9. The most powerful of these tips that work for me is the one about having compassion. If I can consciously reframe my anger into what is this trying to teach me and how can I cultivate compassion for this person then I make great strides in letting go of my anger. It also becomes easier over time. I hope that this article finds its way to people who need help controlling anger.

    • Sebastian,

      That’s truly going to the core as true compassion and understanding can cut through everything. Sometimes we need the other tips to help us create the space for compassion and insight to arise. But, if you can do there directly, that’s best and so very wonderful. I’m so inspired by this!

  10. Hi Sandra,
    Anger is an emotion,and like all emotions its a choice.We make the choices about our emotions,instead of them swooping out of the blue onto our “mood-scape”.
    You rightly point out that we are responsible for our anger.I’d like to go a step forward and say we are squarely responsible for all our emotions.
    We can make the choice of empowering emotions instead of being blown away with dis empowering ones.We need to question our tendencies.
    When challenging situations come my way,do I avoid,and resist them due to possible emotional turbulence?Or do I deal with situations,while keeping my emotional balance perfectly intact? If not,what can I do to develop the critical life-skill of emotional balance,and emotional empowerment?

    • I agree with you completely, Mona! I also know – at least for myself – it takes time and patience to develop that emotional balance. As you say, I think we have to make it a priority for our own health and happiness and the health and happiness of others as well. Thanks for your clarity.

  11. Hi Sandra,

    Anger is such a conundrum for most people, so it’s an important topic to bring out into the open in such an intelligent way. And these are very helpful tools and suggestions that you include in this post.

    Where I differ from your perspective (and the Dalai Lama’s) is on the second point – embracing the dangers of anger. Although you didn’t say it directly, it sounds like you feel that the goal is twofold: to not experience anger and to not act out on it in our relationships with others. I’m with you on the second point, but I question the first one.

    Anger is a normal human emotion that arises. When I feel angry, it doesn’t help to tell myself that the thoughts are like rancid food I want to spew onto the world. That feels judgmental of my own experience, and in those moments, I need more self-compassion. That gap you describe on point 3 is so important to find so I can say, “OK, anger is present.” In that neutral or even friendly greeting of my experience (yes, even anger), the tools can be applied appropriate to the situation.

    I see a value in anger – not the out of control kind, but the healthy kind that is a valid reaction or experience. Maybe the anger has something to communicate. Maybe it’s a signal that something needs deeper attention(e.g., hurt). And maybe the energy of it can be transformed into useful action. There’s an aliveness at the heart of anger, in my experience. I’m happy to be wise about not expressing bitterness and cruelty, but I welcome the fact of anger itself as a starting point for a valuable exploration.

    • Dear Gail,

      Thanks for sharing your wise insights into anger. I see I may not have explained myself well and am so I’m grateful that you’ve shared your thoughts.

      Let me clarify point number two: the goal is not to not experience anger! I’m sorry if that’s what came through. I tried to be very careful to say our aim isn’t to suppress anger as that could be very unhealthy for us. Also, it would be near impossible to not experience anger at this stage of our practice. It might be the ultimate outcome of our training once we’ve deleted our storehouse of anger seeds and stop creating new ones.

      In the meantime, the goal is to become aware of anger when it arises and to either apply an antidote or learn to let it go. Self-compassion can definitely fit in perfectly here and I think it’s a beautiful way to respond to anger.

      I’m not suggesting that anyone tell themselves upon experiencing anger that “anger is a rancid food, and I should spit it out immediately.” I don’t encourage people to be judgmental towards themselves. When we thoroughly understand the negative outcomes that expressed (and even supppressed) anger can bring to ourselves and others we may come to deeply understand anger in this way; in a gut way not as an intellectual exercise. This is an outcome, not necessarily a method but it doesn’t involve judgment of oneself or others.

      I so agree we can be friendly to whatever arises in our mind. When we feel more in charge, we don’t have to be afraid of anger or do battle with it. Like any emotions we know it’s empty in essence and will eventually dissolve if we don’t feed it. Our awareness is powerful and allows us to pause and apply the methods or antidotes that will dispel anger. Or, at the highest level of meditation, anger will self-liberate as soon as it arises.

      Anger transformed is said to be clarity. So yes, there can be value in anger when we know how to work with it. And, the more skillful we become in working with it, the less anger will arise over time.

      For the most part, I think we’re on the same page, Gail. But I see there are some elements of my presentation that aren’t entirely clear!!!! I’m so sorry. I so appreciate your feedback. I’ll run through it again and see where I can make adjustments so the true meaning comes out.

  12. Hi Sandra,

    This is an eye-opener for folks that can hardly control anger. What I like most here is the PAUSe – When you feel angry, pause. Anger can increase your heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure. It also releases stress hormones into the blood. Pause, take a few breaths, and bring your mind home. This will counteract the physical arousal that has been set in motion, help you find more calm, and increase your ability to think clearly.

    I agree with that and “pausing” before bursting is better than saying everything I want to say because I am angry but to regret everything later.

    Thanks for sharing this great insight Sandra!

    • Hi Patricia,
      I know, it’s really challenging if anger is a dominant emotion in your life. I’m glad the relate to the idea of pausing. I find pausing a powerful way to deal with any of our emotions and also stress.

      You’re so welcome, Patricia. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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