A furrowed brow, steaming ears, heaving breaths; anger looks a little different on everyone. But no matter your personality or temperament, anger is something we all encounter from time to time.
For all its unpleasantness, anger is a perfectly natural and human emotion. Of course, when we speak of anger, we’re not referring to aggression, which is a different phenomenon altogether. Aggression, which manifests as hostility directed towards others (or ourselves), is never justified or okay. Anger is a response, but aggression is a choice.
While aggression is a no-no, anger in and of itself provides useful information. It lets us know that we’ve been hurt, that a boundary has been crossed, or that our needs aren’t being met. For some of us, anger might be a way of coping with pain: experiencing profound anger might be our body’s way of telling us that there is something deeper we are trying to avoid.
The next time you find yourself fuming, try the following mindfulness exercise so as to feel, accept, and learn from your anger without being overwhelmed by it.
- Begin by recognizing you are angry. Take a moment to sit and confront your feelings, telling yourself that anger is natural and okay.
- Cut off your anger’s energy supply. Stop replaying specific stories in your head or telling yourself how unfair everything is or how you were wronged. For at least a moment, do your best to leave behind the person or thing who got you fuming.
- Bring your attention to your body. Are there any places that might feel neutral or less touched by anger, less agitated, or clenched? Focus on these sensations, taking in deep, slow breaths and then exhaling.
- Now, bring attention to the parts of the body that feel anger or tension. Where is the anger in your body? In your head, your hands, your jaw? Are there any other emotions that go alongside it? Are you embarrassed or anxious? If so, don’t be afraid to name those emotions for what they are.
- As you feel the anger in your body, consider what it might be trying to tell you. What is the anger’s message? Have you been hurt? Does a part of you feel violated? Take the time to ask what parts of you are responding to the anger. Being angry involves an “I” who is upset. Ask yourself who that “I” is (Is it the inner child? The romantic partner? The creative soul?).
- Continue breathing. As you explore the anger, you may reflect on how you can respond to the rage at this moment. This can mean taking a walk, exercising, listening to relaxing music, or writing down your thoughts. You may even find healthy ways to address the source of the anger, say if someone hurt you or a boundary was crossed. If that’s the case, commit to taking deliberate and thoughtful action when you have cooled down (rather than stewing or become passive aggressiveness)
Like all emotions, anger eventually passes. But learning to process it and sit with it means we confront it, rather than our body absorbing and burying it.
If you find yourself persistently simmering or regularly losing your temper over insignificant incidents, it might be worth exploring the issue with a counselor or licensed professional. Remember, for all its usefulness, anger is never something that you should grow accustomed to.