Your anger is important.
This fiery emotion is an appropriate reaction to injustice, betrayal, loss, hurt, trauma, or violation. It’s essential to acknowledge and honor this fierce feeling so that we can attend to the harm that has been caused. When we deny or suppress our anger we often cause ourselves further suffering. And, when we don’t slow down to find the ground and get clear when our anger is ablaze, we end up hurting others.
So the next time anger arises, here are six steps to meet the moment with curiosity and inspire a constructive response.
1 | Notice where there’s tension in your body.
Anger shows up physically in the body. Notice if you’re clenching your fists, tightening your jaw, heating up, or feeling sensations in the belly. You may also notice an impulse to run, fight, or withdraw.
Take some space to be with whatever is coming up for you. While it may be uncomfortable, remember that no feeling is permanent. Observe how the physical manifestations of anger naturally shift and change with time.
Note: Our thoughts often fuel anger, so it can be helpful to notice when you’re caught up in a fury of thoughts and invite your attention back to the body.
2 | Slow down and tend to the wisdom of your body.
Anger often comes with a sense of urgency. You may be thinking, “We must figure this out now!” or “ We must get justice now!” While it’s important to address what’s happened, our words and actions usually don’t yield the outcome we’d like when we’re still in the intensity of the emotion. So, it’s crucial first to slow down and take care of yourself.
If you’re noticing physical tension, then invite relaxation into that body part. If you’re heating up, place an ice pack on your neck. If you’re feeling the impulse to run, give yourself permission to walk away for a bit and collect your thoughts (you can always say something like, “I need some time to digest what just happened, I’d like to come back to this tomorrow”). If you’re withdrawing, you might not feel safe, give yourself permission to leave and do something that helps you feel safe and connected (maybe reach out to a friend, meditate or go spend some time in nature). If you feel the desire to fight, find a way to move that energy (maybe go for a run, cook dinner, or do some jumping jacks).
3 | Take long soothing breaths.
The experience of anger is stressful and takes a lot out of us. Breathing deeply and slowly can help reset the nervous system. Take at least five deep breaths as a way to settle the mind and body.
4 | Meet yourself with compassion.
Anger is destabilizing, uncomfortable, and painful. Be kind to yourself. Place your hands over your heart and offer yourself soothing affirmations like, “You don’t deserve to be treated like this.” or “That wasn’t fair.” Or, try saying to yourself, “Wow! This is a lot to process and manage. I’m sorry things feel so hard right now.”
5 | Notice if there are any feelings underneath the anger.
Take as much time as you need in steps one through four. Once you’re feeling calmer, investigate what else might be going on for you. Sometimes anger can serve as protection for other feelings that may be even more challenging to feel. For example, many of us weren’t taught how to deal with feeling disappointed, so anger sometimes arises to shield us from a deeper sadness. Diving beneath the surface of a big emotion and exploring the complexity of our experience can help inform our next steps.