But why do we get angry—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.”
With that in mind, anger is a totally normal and natural human emotion, but it can have negative consequences if it gets out of control. Luckily, there are a handful of tried-and-true methods for letting go of your anger before it can get the best of you.
How to let go of anger quickly and effectively
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 the tips below.
3. Honor the anger
Oftentimes when we feel angry, we may also feel shame for feeling angry in the first place, which can lead to negative behaviors that affect ourselves or others. When that happens, instead of letting the shame take over, Amira Johnson, MSW, a mental health expert and clinician at Berman Psychotherapy, an outpatient psychotherapy practice based in Atlanta, Georgia, recommends honoring the anger. “Honoring the anger would look like appreciating this emotion for showing up for you and validating the experience you are having at that moment,” she explains. “Then, take a moment to ask yourself: what is the anger trying to show me?”
4. Build a connect with the anger
Taking it a step further, Johnson also suggests building a connection with the anger by asking the anger questions about why it’s there. “We all have various sub-personalities, or parts, that show up at different moments within our human experience to help us express who we are and what we are experiencing and navigating through,” Johnson says. “By looking upon the anger as one of the parts of yourself, you create space to connect to it and its root causes of existing.” For instance, Johnson adds, you can ask the anger when it started showing up in your life, what triggers it, and if there is something the anger is trying to protect you from.
5. Notice how anger has impacted your life
Another key step in learning how to let go of anger is acknowledging how it has impacted your life. To do this, Johnson encourages writing notes to the angry part of you about all the different ways it’s affected your life. Get it all out on paper.
6. Recognize anger is trying to protect you
Although feeling angry doesn’t feel good, it’s intentions are actually good. Anger is merely trying to help you and protect you from something, Johnson says. So, in realizing that this is anger’s underlying motive, we can then inform that anger part of ourselves that it doesn’t always have to show up to try and save the day.
7. Talk to the anger
In addition to deep breathing, another strategy you can keep in your back pocket to help mitigate anger in the moment is simply talking to the anger out loud and letting it know that everything is okay. “This practice will help the anger part of you recognize that you are validating it while also reminding it that this moment does not call for anger to lead the way,” Johnson says. “It may sound silly initially but think about all the times you have talked aloud to yourself. It will help address the anger with intention and purpose.”
8. Affirm that you are safe
Here’s another anger-busting tool to keep handy: repeating the affirmation “you are safe” as you breathe deeply. “This is a way for you to remind yourself in the moment that there may not be a threat happening although you initially have perceived there to be one,” Johnson says. In doing so, you can take control of the situation versus letting the anger take control.
9. Remember you’re not an angry person
Again, anger is a normal human emotion and it’s a natural response to certain things that come up in our lives, Johnson says. So instead of deeming yourself as an angry person, remind yourself that you are simply experiencing the emotion of anger.
10. Talk to a mental health professional
If all else fails, there’s a reason therapy exists: It’s because it helps, and it helps a lot. If you find that these strategies are not helping or 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.
The health consequences of anger retention
So, why work on learning how to let go of anger? In short, anger 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. Research also suggests that there is an association between anger and hostility and coronary heart disease. And, anger can contribute to generalized anxiety disorder too.
“It’s important to recognize the mind, body, and soul connection,” Johnson says. “When we allow emotions such as anger to take over our ways of daily living, it is scientifically proven that we can begin to experience various health issues. These issues include, but are not limited to, headaches, body aches, and heart issues.”
Anger can also become destructive when we try to bury it instead of examining why it’s happening in the first place. “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."
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.
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