Anger: Creating Space

There’s so much to explore about anger; it’s a big emotion with the potential for very big consequences when left unchecked. Being angry can take a lot out of us, as well as the people around us. Let’s face it…we often live reactively; we allow our emotions to emulate whatever we’re presented with. These are often very basic, automatic reactions, but as we grow, learn and develop our emotional intelligence, we gradually become more strategic with managing our emotions, including anger. When we’re angry, one of the most important tactics to employ to harness it involves creating space.

Why we need to cool the flames

 When we’re really angry, it can be all-consuming. Our brain becomes commandeered by varying forms of rage for a time and we can barely think of anything else. Even if we don’t act on it outwardly, we may act indirectly by being passive-aggressive or plotting our revenge. Either way, what’s needed is time and space to gain our composure and perspective. Not only do we help avoid the possibility of hurling punches or harmful words, but we learn more about ourselves and our triggers. Here are a few other reasons why creating space is so important:

  • It gives us time to process the event more logically and effectively – away from the ‘drama epicentre’
  • It allows time for the physical responses (heart rate, blood pressure, etc.) to settle down
  • It helps us to communicate more effectively
  • It enables us to focus and creates more clarity in our thinking

Finally, creating space allows us to use what’s called “System 2” thinking, which is critical, deliberate thinking from the brain’s neocortex, as opposed to “System 1” thinking, which is an emotional, gut reaction from our limbic system. This concept was developed by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who suggests that decision-making is not always based on conscious, rational thoughts. There’s often a clash between the two ways of thinking. Although our intention is to take our time and act logically, we often struggle with rapid, instinctive reactions that counteract our goals.

Putting out the fire

Now that we know why we need to create space and remove ourselves from the situation that has prompted our anger, it’s important to explore various tips for how to gain control. The first thing to note is that it’s essential to pinpoint our triggers and work to avoid them whenever possible. For example, if we’re having a conversation with someone and we know it’s not going well, before anything erupts, we can work to avoid any outbursts by politely changing the conversation or removing ourselves from it. Understanding our triggers is the first big step to managing anger, much like we avoid a particular food if it doesn’t sit well with us; we just say no. Here are more strategies to help us put out emotional fires:

  • Get out – either leave the room, the building, or put down the cell phone, but physically remove yourself however possible
  • I mean…really breathe! Don’t just count to 10, breathe until you feel the difference in mood
  • Be mindful – it’s a practice we should all be more familiar with. Stop and ask, “What am I feeling?”
  • Meditate to help quiet your mind – get into a new, clear headspace
  • Visualize – a pleasant memory, a positive outcome or anything that’s soothing
  • Exercise – whether it’s a casual stroll or an intense workout, exercise does wonders for improving one’s mood
  • Talk it out – with a trusted friend or family member – but only after the flames have cooled

We’ve all likely experienced the destruction or despair caused by unmanaged anger at some point in our lives, which is why it’s so important to work towards understanding anger better and learning ways to manage it, such as creating space. Although we can’t control the behaviours of others, we can always control our own behaviour. We’re in the driver’s seat.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor E. Frankl