Anger, like chronic stress, can make you sick. When you feel angry your stress response is activated and your adrenal glands excrete cortisol and adrenaline. In cases of genuine threat, this response acts as a motivating force to galvanise action. However, long-term activation of the stress response is related to adverse physical and mental health outcomes. These include depression, anxiety and heart disease. Moreover, anger may cause you to act more aggressively which can damage both personal and professional relationships.
Identifying the type of anger you have, and what is driving it, are the first steps towards letting go. In some cases, anger can be a healthy way to let you know a boundary has been crossed. If expressed in a healthy way, it may be used to help you assert yourself and establish what you are comfortable with tolerating. More negative expressions of anger may be related to problems with emotional regulation or holding grudges.
Steps to let go of Anger
Make a choice
Letting go of anger starts with a committed decision to do so. You can’t change the past nor predict the future, but you can take control of how you act in the present. If useful find a quote that inspires you to remain committed to your decision. Examples include:
- “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the one who gets burned” Buddha
- “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured” Mark Twain
Recognise your triggers
Knowing what situations are likely to make you angry allows you to plan an alternative response. Whether it is driving in peak hour traffic or when your children refuse to go to bed, if you know what situations are likely to be activating, you have more control to develop the skills to respond in a calm manner.
A key element of mindfulness is being present in the moment. When confronted with an activating event, notice what is going on in your body and mind. Are you feeling tension anywhere? Is your breath shorter? Does your mind get taken over with thoughts like ‘they never listen to me’ or ‘I am so sick of having to be the one who cleans up all time’. Notice this and practise the skills to defuse the situation.
Learning to respond rather than react
Reacting is meeting the situation with emotionally charged behaviour which only serves to escalate the emotion. Responding involves taking emotion out of it. Responding is more adaptive and solution focused. This may take practice and involve learning some appropriate mindfulness skills.
Once you observe that you are activated, practice skills to calm yourself down. Take a few slow deep breaths. Recognise your thoughts and address them. This could be saying something like ‘I notice I am having the thought that my children never listen to me. Reacting with anger will not help solve this problem’. If you find you are very worked up, take a time out. Take a mindful walk or do some more strenuous exercise.
Recognise if you need help
Sometimes ongoing anger is not something you can fix by yourself. Trauma, negative core beliefs or adverse childhood experiences can impact your ability to emotionally regulate. Moreover, experiences of major betrayal or infidelity may be harder to work through on your own. If you find you are struggling to let go of anger don’t be afraid to reach out to a psychologist who will be able to support you through the process.