Anger is a powerful energetic state. It is a deeply unsettling place to be, and it can be harmful to ourselves (my big toe can attest to this fact) and the people around us. For every instance of uncontrolled anger/violent thoughts we are more likely to repeat it and run the risk of creating an unhealthy response pattern. However, we are not helpless in this state, and there are several things we can do to mitigate the potential damage. In my years of studying, practicing and teaching yoga I have found a method that really helps me deal when I am “in the heat of the moment”. I am not claiming to have mastered this method. I am human and flawed like everyone else, but I have found that with these steps, I am less likely to lash out and hurt those around me.
The following 6 steps are for when we are "about to lose our sh#t", “white hot”, “seeing red”, “extremely irritated” or any other varying degree of disturbance.
- This is not the time to analyze why you are feeling the way you are and/or try to solve the problem. Creativity, rationale and problem solving are not anger’s strong suits.
- Take a moment to feel what is happening in your body. Your heart is beating faster, your breath is shallow, your jaw and your fists are clenched. Watch where sensation is manifesting in the body. Anger is a form of very intense energy (sometimes so intense we find ourselves lashing out before we are aware that we were going to do/say whatever we just did/said) With our attention on the body, we begin to take deeper breaths.
- Make room for what is happening. Whoever or whatever has struck a nerve is most likely nearby. If possible leave the room(or get off the phone) explaining that you need space. If you are alone, take a time out. Do not, I repeat, do not try to solve the problem at this moment. Resist the need to “lay into” the kids or the partner/friend/whoever. This is where space is necessary. Put the phone down! No texting/dialing/tweeting/emailing/touching of any device — they are all hot lava.
- Anger needs fuel, and the mind is more than obliging in this regard. Notice how “like” thoughts start to creep in. For example, “he/she/they never listen to me” (very likely a generalization), “last time I did something for him/her they didn’t appreciate it”, or “this is complete fu#@ing bullshit I did nothing to deserve this”, “I am going to text him/her right now to let them know how much they suck”, "even the fu#$ing cat hates me today, look at how he is looking at me", and so on. Suddenly we start to remember the last time we felt this way, or we start to create lists of all of the other infractions this person has committed against us. Our anger sends us into a spiral and we can get caught in its sticky web. Thoughts are not reality, they are just thoughts. Notice how your thoughts are pulling you into a certain direction. All devices remain to be hot lava here, your thumbs may be twitching…put the device down.
- Cultivate a positive thought (this is a technique from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras). We tend to have tunnel vision when we are angry and this is hard to do, but oh so worth it. The beauty of this practice is that you don’t have to actually believe the positive thought. Also, the positive thought can have absolutely nothing to do with what you are angry about. Some examples of positive thoughts: “ I am a loving being”, “ Nature is medicine”, “Paul Simon’s voice is like butter on toast”, “I am creative”, “I am part stardust”, and so on. Now we have ‘interrupted’ the negative pattern building in the mind. We can repeat our positive thought like a mantra, or we can build on it with more positive thoughts. It is still not safe to pick up a device.
- Distract yourself. We want to build healthy responses to our discomfort, and mediate guilt spirals (ahem, I am talking to you Netflix, salt and sugar). The energy of anger needs an outlet and it is helpful to move the body. Here are some of my “go to” distractions.
- Take a shower (repeat #5 while here, deep breaths, and feel the water)
- Listen to a light hearted podcast (The Minimalists podcast is a personal favorite of mine for times like this. They are light and “pithy” and encourage me to have less and spend less..win/win in my books)
- Get outside and walk/run/bike/jog
- Listen to music - Dance
- Do jumping jacks, squats, sit-ups or all three (if you are confined to work you can do this in the office or in a bathroom stall…maybe not the sit-ups in the bathroom stall….)
- Clean things in your space (you are already a little pissy..lets use this energy to be productive..)
- Yard work (again a chance to channel pissy-ness for the good of all)
- Put on a couple of maxi pads and jump on a trampoline (maxi pads not necessary if you are a man or have not had children)
- Cry...if it needs to come out in tears, then let that shit out!
By the time you have completed the 6th step, you may feel relatively cooled down. When we cool down we are less likely to say/do something that we will regret later. It is so much easier to take space than it is to earn someones forgiveness. These steps can also model healthy behavior to our children and loved ones.
If you happen to say some harsh words, raise your voice, yell, throw a yogurt and have it explode on the carpet (that one may be from personal experience), stomp, slam a door (okay they are all from personal experience), or any other anger offense —apologize. Own your actions, as soon as you have cooled down enough to humbly apologize (nobody can “make” us do anything, we always have a choice in how we respond), then move towards a solution. Have compassion for yourself too. This is a practice. Just keep practicing.
What are some of your favorite healthy distractions when you are feeling angry? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below.
You are nature.
With Love, Nicole