We hear gurus and self-help experts telling us to let go of anger and resentment. They try to teach us how to “forgive and release.” And they make lots of money through their books and courses on how to do that, but it rarely works as promised for their audiences.
If you’re like me, with a full-time job outside of the self-help industry, you probably can’t turn your anger off like a switch as those gurus claim to be able to do.
Well, I’ve got some hacks that might help, but, before we get into those, it’s important to get one thing straight first: You’re allowed to feel irritated, annoyed, angry, and even rage. There’s nothing wrong with those feelings, as long as they aren’t a trigger to harm others. In fact, they can even be a resource at times. Being trapped in them, however, for extended periods of time, can certainly be unhealthy.
Feelings and emotions provide information. They are usually be pointing you toward something you need to acknowledge, or at least pay attention to long enough to examine.
1. Feeling anger is OK (even for “nice” people).
Along with rushing toward forgiveness, you might feel compelled to bury your anger. This tendency can stem from cultural messages that anger is wrong (especially for “people pleasers”), or it might come from your personal or religious beliefs and experiences. No matter the reason, ignoring your anger (or any other emotion) can backfire, especially with your physical and mental health.
Admitting you’re angry can be difficult. For instance, if you’re someone who rushes to forgive, imagine how you might react to a friend who is upset about what you are experiencing. The compassion and understanding that you’d share with them might be exactly what you need to give yourself.
If you’re someone who buries your emotions (most common with introverts and/or people who feel pressure to be the “nice” person all the time), take a moment to admit that you’re angry out loud. Try not to rationalize it away or pretend it doesn’t exist. Simply say the words and realize that the world is still turning. It’s okay to be angry or even feel rage.
2. Write down why you’re angry.
Once you’ve admitted your anger verbally, write your thoughts and emotions out. It’s very helpful to vent on paper for a while, and expressing your feelings helps you regulate them. When you’re angry, logic and reason tend to suffer, according to the APA. So writing down your thoughts allows you to take a step back, to look at it more objectively, and explore how much of your anger is rooted in reality. You can start by answering the following question: Why am I angry right now?
When you have an answer to that question, note if it makes you feel angrier, or makes you feel better. Then visualize yourself about 20 feet in the air, looking down on yourself. Now see that person as someone you are observing from above. Next, answer the same question for that person, like, “She’s so angry because…” It might sound weird, but you could find that your answer changes a bit with the different perspective, which will give you another clue into the source and the context.
3. See if you can pinpoint your triggers.
When you decide to examine your anger, frustration, or even rage, random memories, thoughts, and emotions can arise. Some of those thoughts might include name-calling and colorful language. But there’s probably valuable information you can learn from that too.
Anger can arise when you lose your patience, feel disappointed in yourself or others, disrespected, or overlooked, the Mayo Clinic explains. It can also happen when you’re dealing with a situation that feels similar to a prior traumatic incident.
Seeing all of your feelings on paper can help you figure out both what happened and how you’re interpreting the situation (and paper is better than a screen because you remember it better). This can help you avoid those triggers in the future, the APA says. And, if you’re angry at someone in particular, knowing what triggered you can help you communicate it to them more effectively if that becomes necessary.
Anger can feel like it’s mostly in your head, especially when you’re clear on precisely what pushed you over the edge. But it isn’t just happening in your mind—there is also a physiological response, which is good news. It means that you can do things that will activate your parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” response), which can help you get out of your sympathetic nervous system (FFF). There are lots of breathing techniques that might help, but you can start by putting one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach as you slowly breathe in and out through your nose. Square breathing is another of the many helpful techniques.
5. Exert Yourself Physically.
Doing something physical is another way to work through negative emotions. This can be a high-intensity X Gym style workout, a brisk walk around your neighborhood, mowing your lawn, or scrubbing your baseboards until they’re spotless. The idea is to take your mind off of your thoughts and help you metabolize some of the chemicals that were released when you got angry. Using your muscles also helps the process of release because emotions are often stored there.
6. Choose how to vent.
There’s nothing inherently right or wrong with talking to someone about your anger, but different brain types need to do it differently and research is pretty mixed about whether venting actually helps reduce anger.
In fact, in a 2016 study researchers asked 112 professionals to keep daily diaries of their experiences at work. The researchers found that the more people complained, the worse they felt. That doesn’t mean you should keep all of your feelings bottled up. You just have to be very intentional about how you choose to chat.
There’s other research to suggest that a significant difference between healthy and unhealthy venting is actually more about the listener than the venter. A 2015 study looked at active listening (paraphrasing what the speaker said, asking follow-up questions, etc.) and found that those who spoke to active listeners did feel better. So the takeaway here is that you can vent, but be mindful about whether it’s making you feel better or worse.
Verbally venting tends to be more helpful for extroverts because they usually process things more effectively by “talking it out.”
Introverts, on the other hand, often find it more effective to “think it through” and/or “sleep on it” as they process things better internally. They do often benefit from journaling, however, as a next step, once they have had enough processing time inside their own heads, but for an extreme introvert, verbal venting to another person might not even happen. And in some cases, it doesn’t need to (despite the insistence of their extroverted friends and partners).
Wondering if you are an introvert or an extrovert? For a quick way to find out, well as some useful brain hacks and custom brain rewiring techniques based on your unique brain type, check out the brain type test!
7. If you’re angry at someone, consider talking it out when you’ve calmed down.
Sometimes we’re angry at other human beings, and processing emotions might include explaining why you’re upset. If you’ve worked through your anger and you don’t feel compelled to talk to the other person about it, that’s fine. And, if you’re raging and ready to fight, it’s best to wait until things have simmered. But if and when you feel ready, it’s acceptable to approach the person you’re upset with and explain how and why you’re angry. Remember to use “I feel” statements instead of “you did ____” accusations when trying to get your point across to cut down on defensiveness from the other person.
If the anger still persists after these steps, consider chatting with a professional.
When trying to figure out whether or not you want to seek support for dealing with this emotion, the APA suggests asking yourself, Is my anger working for me? If you’re able to manage your anger and find the gems within it, you might not need professional support.
If your anger impacts your well-being or relationships, it might be time to partner with a therapist to help you figure out how to move forward. Even if your anger isn’t troubling, it’s okay to chat through your concerns and seek consolation from your provider or online support groups. As mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with getting angry (we’ve all been there), but you want to make sure that the anger isn’t stealing your joy, or making you less healthy, and holding onto it certainly will.