Anger: Relaxation & Cognitive Changes


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Anger is a complicated emotion as we know, and no two people are affected by it or deal with it the same way. Luckily, there are ways to manage anger, such as creating space and moving away from the immediate crisis. Although this step is very important, it’s usually only a temporary measure; it doesn’t help us get to the root of our feelings and shed more light on the situation at hand.

Just as we are faced with so many different triggers and situations, we also have many skills and resources at hand to test or try to help manage our anger. What made us mad yesterday may not impact us at all if it were to happen again, yet it’s possible we’ll come across something totally new that could really set us off. Life is oh-so unpredictable, and that’s not a bad thing, but letting our anger get out of control is. The key is to change the way we think and view events, and then try out ways to manage ourselves and understand what’s causing our anger a little better.

Walk away from labels & preconceived ideas

We’ve become used to labelling things (good, bad, scary, etc.) and the labels we put on them aren’t always correct, in fact they’re more often incorrect. Our preconceived notions are just that – notions. They aren’t factual or impartial, they are usually subjective and based on one experience, or even just word-of-mouth. For example, we may ‘label’ holiday mall shopping as crowded, hot, expensive, and time-consuming, and then (not surprisingly) we’ll head into it with a negative or angry attitude. However, there’s always the chance that it will be pleasant, festive, affordable and even fun, but our preconceived ideas may have ruined it for us, as well as those around us. Learning to take a break, relax, ponder, take risks, and view things from different angles is very helpful in mitigating anger, and we usually gain a little wisdom along the way.

Relaxation techniques

It’s important to remember that whenever we are angry, it’s not because other individuals ‘made us angry’. No one else is to blame for our angry outbursts but ourselves. Sure, we can (and sometimes even should) be upset at what someone did or said, and we have a right to tell them, but showing aggression, being cruel, yelling or other negative behaviours is never acceptable. We don’t need to react to others – or give anyone the power to influence our emotional responses.

Here are some quick relaxation techniques to help us gain the control we need to better understand ourselves, our reactions, and re-frame the situation if needed. Keep in mind that it’s a process and not a quick fix when we try these new techniques:

  1. Breathe deeply, meditate, and visualize being calm and in control and be sure to avoid shallow breathing – it keeps our blood pressure and negative energy high
  2. Be aware of tense muscles – a stiff jaw or tight neck will only get worse when left unattended to
  3. Try all and any variety of options to reduce angry feelings, such as massage therapy, yoga/tai chi, music/art therapy, hydrotherapy, exercise, journaling, etc.
  4. Avoid angry or unhappy people during this time; they only drag us down
  5. Eat well and limit alcohol – our minds and bodies need to be strong
  6. Seek professional help when anger gets out of control – sooner than later

Re-framing – making cognitive changes

Finally, it’s always important to view situations in a different light. Things aren’t always as they appear, and we’re often hasty to jump to conclusions and work ourselves up into a state over something we’re often wrong about anyway. Misunderstandings and communication barriers are more to blame for a lot of our conflict and anger than we care to admit. We humans are highly evolved beings, yet when we’re angry, it seems as if all our strategic thinking and cognitive functioning gets tossed out the window. Taking the time to look at all sides of a situation and toning down any drama always helps us get a better picture of what’s going on and helps us gain insight on what we’re actually feeling and why. True change happens when we make deliberate changes to our ways of thinking and how we view the events before us.

“Anger is the most impotent of passions. It affects nothing it goes about, and it hurts the one who is possessed by it more than the one against whom it is directed.” – Carl Sandburg