How to manage your anger
I learned something as a kid that I had to unlearn as an adult: anger is scary. Growing up, if someone said, “I got angry,” it meant they got upset, yelled, hurt someone, or threw something. But as an adult here’s what I’ve learned: anger does not have to be scary. You can feel angry and not get upset.
All feelings are normal, and all of them can be felt in either healthy or unhealthy ways. Some people drink too much wine when they’re happy. That’s an unhealthy response to happiness. In a similar way, yelling is an unhealthy response to anger. Would you like to learn how to feel your feelings in healthy ways, to become more emotionally intelligent and self-regulated? Here’s how:
First, notice what your feelings feel like in your body. For example, many people feel a lump in their throat when they’re sad, an upset stomach when they’re nervous, and a tightness in the chest or shoulders when they feel stressed. People feel warmth in the chest when they feel loving, and sometimes tingling down the spine when they feel happy and relaxed. Anger can feel like a combination of these sensations, including heat in the head or tightness in the fists, or even tightness in the legs, like you want to run or kick something. You might make a list for yourself: what do your feelings feel like?
Second, if you’re having a big feeling, an extreme feeling, help yourself calm down a bit by taking a nice yawn and stretch. Cats and dogs calm themselves down with yawns, and you can too. When you yawn, open up the back of your throat. Tilt your head side to side, stretch and give your whole body a wiggle, from the spine down to your toes. Yawn with your whole body like this several times. Yawning is a basic body hack that tells your brain and body to calm down. At first, it might feel strange to do this when you’re angry, but give it a try.
Once calm, you can make a choice about how to respond to your feelings based on your values. If you’re reading this article, I’m betting you have solid values that are important to you. Values like dignity, respect, honor, and integrity. What are your values? Who do you want to be? How do you want to be seen in this world? Write a few of your values down and post them on your bathroom mirror.
Now let me be honest, when you respond to your anger by being hurtful, you’re not living up to your values. So how can you respond to your feelings by being helpful? Let’s go through a few examples. A helpful response to sadness is crying and talking to a friend or taking a walk. A helpful response to happiness is dancing to a favorite song. A helpful response to anger is creating a safe and loving space for yourself and others. You might choose to speak up about your anger, but do it in a way that’s loving, that makes others feel safe. They’ll be able to hear you and support you better that way.
I used to think I had to yell to get my kids’ attention. Then they started yelling at me to get my attention. I realized that’s not the life I wanted for myself, my children, nor my children’s children. And living that way did not align with my values.
You might not believe it, but anger motivates me in good ways. People ask me what gets me up in the morning, where I find the energy to do the work I do. I tell them, “Two things: love and anger.” I have love for people, so I do what I do. And I’m angry so many of us still have families that yell like I did, like my dad did, like my grandpa did. I use my anger to do work in a loving way. The fuel from anger helped me write this article for you, friend. Anger is powerful. It has a ton of energy. Harness it to do good things, and you can move mountains.
Jeanette Hargreaves, M.Div., is the founder of tempercoaching.com
Her book, The Day I Threw Banana Bread and Almost Went to Jail: True Stories About How I Used to Lose My Temper (and How I Learned to Stop) is available on Amazon.