We’ve all been there: The morning sun is shining, you’ve had a nutritious breakfast, perhaps even made time to meditate, then left the house bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to carpe diem. Before you hit the road you’ve synced up your favorite playlist and you’re ready for the a.m. cruise to work.
The commute begins mellow enough, you’re nodding your head to a relaxing tune and intermittently sipping your morning coffee, but -- bam -- before you know it some inconsiderate soul has cut you off, leaving you shaking your fist in anger.
What began as an incredibly pleasant start to the day has now morphed into a rude awakening.
This is just one such scenario nearly all of us have encountered where anger rears its ugly head. The fact of the matter, however, is that anger as an emotion is perfectly natural. The problem lies in your response to the angering event and the levels of anger you harbor. And letting it get the best of you can kill, literally.
According to cardiologist Dave Montgomery, MD of Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, “If you have a destructive reaction to anger, you are more likely to have heart attacks.”
Additionally, anger can often go hand in hand with anxiety, another condition that can wreak havoc on body and mind, if left untreated. So, the question is then: How can we mitigate the potential damage caused by toxic levels of anger?
1. Baseline anger management
We’ve often heard the term “anger management” bandied about in jest on TV or in the movies, but it’s a very real thing that many suffering with anger issues could benefit from. Being mindful and acknowledging that you have these issues is the first step in curbing unwanted behaviors or actions. The Mayo Clinic describes anger management as, “the process of learning to recognize signs that you're becoming angry, and taking action to calm down and deal with the situation in a positive way.”
As previously stated, recognizing that anger is a normal, healthy emotion is key, the trick is learning how to divert it in a positive, healthy manner if it’s interfering with your daily functioning. There are a vast array of options to begin seeking help, including online and local classes, as well as inquiring about these services with a licensed mental health professional.
2. Deep breathing exercises
Noted psychologist and professor Robert Plutchik considered anger to be one of the eight primary emotions and it is noted as a cherry red-colored sliver on his famous Wheel of Emotions, just to the left of the dark-red emotion of rage. To offset some of that anger, long before it approaches rage, experts recommend focusing on your breathing.
Breathing in deeply from the gut, not from the chest, in through the nose and out through the nose can help to serve to relax and calm the mind. In fact, daily deep breathing exercises are widely noted to be an optimal way to reduce stress and bring some clarity back to the fore.
3. Change your thinking
This one is, of course, much easier said than done -- and all the advice in the world about how to do this means nothing without your active participation. The American Psychological Association cites cognitive restructuring as a key technique in developing a skillset to manage your anger. Simply translated, it means altering the way in which you may deal with an angering situation.
Therapists and licensed mental health practitioners can help you enact cognitive behavioral strategies. The APA maintains a great list of suggestions to do this, including avoiding overgeneralizations such as, “this is never going to work,” or “you’re always forgetting things.” As they convey it, these blanket statements can “alienate or humiliate those might be otherwise be willing to work with you on a solution.”
4. Count sheep, not problems
As we’ve discussed numerous times in the past, if you’re not sleeping well, you’re not functioning well. Sleep deprivation can cause a host of maladies, including negatively affecting your mood. Experts from across the psychological spectrum have discussed how even one bad night of sleep can throw off your schedule, thus making you more prone to irritability, anger and hostility.
Proper sleep hygiene, as defined by the National Sleep Institute is “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”
One such idea that is gaining steam is having a nightcap before bed as part of your regiment. No -- not of the alcoholic variety -- but of apple cider vinegar and raw honey variety. A major proponent of this cocktail is New York Times best-selling author of "The 4-Hour Workweek" and noted entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss. Admittedly unsure as to the biochemistry of how or why this works, Tim’s recipe involves adding one to two tablespoons of ACV and one tablespoon of raw honey to a decaffeinated nighttime tea of your choice.
Mr. Ferris claims that even friends of his that are “chronic insomniacs” are singing the praises of this easy-to-concoct, healthy elixir.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of ways or means to wrangling your anger, it’s a great start on your journey to a calmer, happier and less angry you.