Anger is a growing problem in the U.S.—from road rage to retaliation for bullying to political arguments to screaming matches with family members. When the causes of anger aren’t understood or steps aren’t taken to deal with anger attacks, the results can be life changing. Reader’s Digest recently published a helpful list of ways you can calm down and reduce the chance of an anger attack getting out of control. Here are some of our favorite tactics:
1. Avoid Physical Venting
Punching bags or screaming to let off steam can actually increase your stress levels and even increase your risk of a heart attack. Don’t act out your anger—it doesn’t help, according to researchers.
2. Try Breath Control
Breathing techniques can help reduce stress, according to the American Psychological Association. If you’re in a stressful situation, take a deep breath, hold it and then let it out slowly. Another technique is to take three deep breaths, letting each one out slowly. Practice this before you get angry to see how it affects you.
3. Identify Anger Scenarios
To avoid reacting to situations that make you angry, try to identify issues you experience at work, in the home, while in traffic or in other regular scenarios that cause your blood pressure to spike. Plan strategies in advance to deal with problematic people or situations.
4. Laughter Really Is Medicine
Whenever possible, try to lighten a situation by making people laugh. Laughing can release “positive” hormones like cortisol and epinephrine that make people feel better.
5. Count To 10—Or 120
When you feel yourself getting angry, look at a clock or watch with a second hand and don’t react for two minutes. Take this time to think about what’s getting you upset, why it makes you angry and what you might be able to do about it.
6. Try Empathy
If you’re upset with a co-worker, friend, family member or neighbor, put yourself in his or her shoes. Even if the person is clearly wrong, she might have a personal problem that’s causing her to behave badly. Someone might be going through a divorce, have financial problems or be struggling with a health issue. Understanding why someone acts the way they do can help you take their behavior in a less personal way.
7. Role Reverse With Your Kids
If you’re have trouble dealing with your parents, think about your children. How might they view you, and how do you hope they’ll think of you in the future? This anger-management technique can also help you avoid repeating some of the behaviors of your own parents.
8. Think About Your Target
The people with whom you lose your temper aren’t necessarily the people who have upset you. Consider the customer service person on the phone or the cashier at the grocery store who didn’t set the pain in the butt policy that has you agitated. What about one of your child’s teachers who has to follow district rules? Is a friend who’s letting you vent not agreeing with you 100 percent about a situation? Don’t link her to the original issue that’s got your blood boiling.
9. Write It Down
To better understand your anger about a situation, write about it. Try writing letters to the people who have upset you, explaining to them what’s bothering you and how they contributed to the problem. Let the letter sit and then re-read it the next day. Would you still send that letter or, now that you’ve had time to think about it, do you have a different take on the situation? Consider keeping an “anger diary,” recommends Harry Mills, Ph.D., author of “The Anxiety Factor: The Role of Anxiety in Health and Performance.”
10. Don’t Go It Alone
Talk to someone you trust about your anger issue. They might have a perspective on the situation you never considered, or may offer a solution you can use from now on. Just hearing yourself talk about your anger issue out loud can bring a different perspective, allowing you to more effectively work out your problem.
11. Get Physical
Exercise is another way to get your body to release positive hormones that make you feel better. Go for a walk, do some calisthenics, ride a bike, mow the lawn, run some stairs—anything that gets your heart rate elevated, blood circulating, breath deepening and muscles moving, recommends the Mayo Clinic.