Sweaty palms, red face, a quickening pulse, the inability to focus on anything else—ah, the telltale signs of anger.
But why do we get mad—be it mildly irritated or overcome with all-encompassing rage—in the first place? According to New York-based holistic psychotherapist Alison Stone, LCSW, anger acts as an emotional alarm for our brains and bodies. “It sends an SOS trigger to the brain about how we’re feeling, or how we’re reacting to an outside event,” she explains. “Any excessive negative feeling—fear, distress, shame, rejection—will likely trigger anger.”
But while anger can be incredibly negative when it starts to consume us, Stone notes that anger isn’t always a bad thing—especially because anger is information. “Anger is our system’s way of alerting us that we’re feeling something that we likely don’t want to be feeling,” she says. “For example, hurt, betrayed, ignored, taken advantage of—anything that evokes vulnerability.”
Anger can also become destructive when we try to bury it instead of examining why it’s happening in the first place. (It can impact your physical health as well as your mental well-being: Studies have shown that angry outbursts are correlated with an increased risk of heart attack). “We are often socialized to believe it’s unacceptable and inappropriate to express anger, so we learn to push it aside rather then reflect on what this emotion is trying to tell us,” explains Stone. “If we are able to extend curiosity to our anger, we have a better chance of understanding what’s truly happening in our internal world.”
Stone adds that another risk of stewing in your anger is that when we’re consumed by it, we lose the ability to think clearly. “And it’s not just that—we also lose the ability to act rationally, hold perspective, and communicate effectively,” she says. “This has an obvious negative impact on one’s interpersonal relationships, professional efficacy, family members, the list goes on.”
Additionally, the way anger affects our mental health is very similar to the way chronic stress does. “Think higher rates of depression, anxiety, physical health risks,” Stone says. “So chronic anger really does have the ability to wreak havoc on one’s life.”
Luckily, there are a handful of tried-and-true methods for letting go of your anger before it can get the best of you.
1. Try deep breathing
Deep breathing may be the last thing you want to do when you’re consumed by anger, but closing your eyes and counting to ten can provide quite a bit of immediate relief. If you’re a Headspace kind of person, the popular meditation app has a whole meditation devoted to letting go of anger in the moment. “Muscle relaxation exercises can help quite a bit as well,” says Stone.
For a more long-term solution, a regular meditation practice can be a game-changer when you’re dealing with chronic anger. “Meditation can also help cultivate gratitude, which acts as an antidote to anger,” explains Stone. “It’s really hard to feel both at the same time.”
If you’re eye-rolling at the advice to get all “serenity now” with your anger, you’re right—mindfulness and meditation won’t do the trick for everyone. Proceed to Door #3…
3. Talk to a mental health professional
There’s a reason therapy exists: It’s because it helps, and it helps a lot. If you’re looking to get to the bottom of why your anger is so all-consuming and come up with an action plan to let go of it, a psychotherapist can help. “Psychotherapy is such a beneficial resource to help explore and unpack those underlying emotions contributing to anger,” says Stone.
Chronic anger doesn’t have to get the best of you—and it won’t if you take action sooner rather than later. You’ve got this.
Loading More Posts...