Not many of us are great about anger. We’re definitely not taught steps to process anger. And while many people can and do cry when things are sad, how do you process anger without looking angry?
As a mom, when a kid has a temper tantrum —whether at home or in public— it’s human nature to gently distract them and help prevent the next meltdown. If you’re a mom who lets their kid just have at it in a full blown tantrum at Target, more power to you. I’ve always been the tantrum prevention or tantrum interruption mom.
Kids can teach us a lot about emotions
Watching little kids have tantrums has taught me a few things about anger. Kids have tantrums when they’re sad, frustrated, angry, or just plain trying to get something they want. Think about it. Tantrums are this amazing physical demonstration of emotion.
There’s thrashing, biting, punching, and crying. I’ve even known moms to put those orange construction cones around their tantrum kid at the mall. (Look: I’ve seen it not done it). Anyway, these are all ways small kids innately express their feelings.
As we age though, we learn all of the social norms, none of which allow us to physically or even sometimes verbally express emotions with anything more than a calm but firm (not too firm) retort. Anything more than that and we’re seen as impolite or rude….or gasps…angry. No one wants to be seen as angry. But…
Everyone gets angry and frustrated
No one ever really learns how to process anger and frustration—beyond going to kickboxing classes or going to the gym. Heaven forbid you don’t have the time or interest in kickboxing or the gym, there are very few options for adults to safely and responsibility feel their feelings and process them. We’re never taught how to do this. What generally happens is that we’re taught to believe our feelings are bad or wrong. We’re taught to suppress them, but that’s not OK.
Unprocessed anger can make us sick
A quote attributed to the The Buddha states “You will not be punished for your anger — you will be punished by your anger.”
Feelings that aren’t processed, that aren’t handled dealt with and released find a way to leak into all areas of our lives. These types of feelings are what make us lash out at a friend or family member for something seemingly small and inconsequential. Unprocessed emotion can make us gain weight, stop dreaming, or find ourselves in a stagnant state unwilling to take risks. However it manifest, unprocessed emotions can have truly negative effects on our lives.
Feelings aren’t wrong, but actions can be…
When we think about feelings (like anger and frustration) that are uncomfortable and generally not socially acceptable, it’s easy to think that a feeling can be bad or wrong, but it’s just not true. It’s not wrong to be angry or to feel frustration; it is wrong to punch the person who triggered your anger and frustration. In the same way, it’s not the feeling of anger or frustration, it’s the chip on your shoulder that you carry at work or at home and the actions that you choose that get labeled bad/wrong.
So, whether you’re a mom, an employee, or a traveler in a foreign country, it’s ok to feel anger and frustration, but it’s important to learn how to process your feelings intentionally and with maturity. Here’s a few are 8 practical steps to process your anger and live a fuller life.
8 Practical Steps To Process Your Anger And Live A Fuller Life
1. Acknowledge the feeling
Anger is one of those things we either push down (and hope it disappears) or we lash out and say things we (sometimes) later regret. Now, whether you push it down or you weaponize it against people, you’re not being responsible with your anger and you’re not acknowledging it for what it is …an emotion. Emotions don’t require actions. You don’t need to squash your anger and you don’t need to lash out. Acknowledging the anger is enough. That looks like breathing through the emotion and just admitting (to yourself) that you’re p*ssed. You may not believe me, but sometimes just acknowledging your anger in the moment is enough.
2. Realize that timing is everything.
Acting out on your emotion—anger, sadness, frustration— isn’t always appropriate in the moment. Whether you’re dealing with a flight delay, a rude stranger, or a difficult parenting situation, a lot of times it’s just not appropriate to act out on the emotion.
But instead of pushing the emotion down and hoping it fades away, this is when you absolutely need to acknowledge it and let that emotion just be there — without acting on it— until you have an opportunity to intentionally handle the emotion.
3. Find the trigger.
Emotions just don’t materialize out of nothing. Know that something out in the world triggered your anger. Find it. For instance, it used to be really hard for my dear husband to travel with me. I’d get kinda b*tchy until I realized why.
Turns out, flight delays trigger my anger because they makes me feel out of control and insignificant. When I realized my trigger —not the flight delay but they feelings they produced— I started to understand how other things also triggered my anger/frustration. So now when people hold up a line or when my kids don’t listen, I can feel recognize and acknowledge my own feelings.
You need to find the trigger. See, the thing is when you know what the trigger is, in the future you can recognize the trigger and know what emotion it will produce in you. Then you can choose who you BE and how you react in the moment. You get to live intentionally not as a reaction to your feelings.
4. Choose your moment.
Not every moment is made better by your emotions. Choose your moments wisely. When trying to reschedule your flight back to the US at midnight in Beijing, using broken Chinese, is not the best time for anger. While it’s totally ok to BE angry, it’s not OK to express anger. This is one of those moments where you breathe deeply, acknowledge your frustration and anger and force patience and calm to come out of your mouth.
5. Release your anger.
Finally! You probably feel like you’ve been holding onto your emotions for like EVER waiting to release them. Now is the time!
First, find a quiet place where you can be private. Preferably, find a room where you can close your door. In bind, though, a parked car will work or an empty bathroom. I know that sounds weird, but the idea is to find a private place where you can be alone.
Next, I have three go-to ways to deal with anger. Don’t judge me, but when I was becoming a coach at Accomplishment Coaching, these were the three exercises that resonated most with me.
Disclaimer: These are just ideas for helping people process normal amounts of anger and frustration on their own. This is does not and should not replace professional help that only a mental health practitioner can provide.
Exercise #1. Slap It
Needed: Closed Door, Magazine/Legal Pad, Table, Blasting Music, Timer
Here’s what you do: Close the door. Blast some music. Set your timer for two minutes. Then take that magazine or legal pad (something at least 100 pages) and proceed to bang it on the nearest table, desk, dresser (something hard that won’t break) for the next two minutes.
No, I’m not nuts and neither are you.
But if you’re going to be intentional about your anger, this is like going to the gym. You’re going to look a little nuts. Think of it like an anger gym.
When you really slam that magazine onto that table and it makes that loud slap of a noice you’ll understand. It feels great. Just channel all of your anger. Think about all of the things that just pissed you off that day and release them with each slap of that magazine against the desk.
This is you being an adult. You’re in the privacy of your own space and you’re responsibly releasing your anger. You’re not yelling at anyone. You’re not lashing out physically or saying things you’ll regret or that could cause permanent harm.
Reps: When you first get started with an anger gym, commit to it for two weeks, once a day for 2 minutes a day. Most of us have a lot of pent up emotions and two weeks of daily anger gym is enough to start moving some of those emotions through our bodies. After the first two weeks, use this exercise as needed to intentionally process and release your anger.
Exercise #2: Pillow Scream
Needed: Closed Door, Pillow, Blasting Music, Timer
This exercise is even simpler than the last. Close your door, turn your music up loud, and set your time for two minutes. Then hold your pillow to your face and scream into it.
Yes. Scream into your pillow as loudly as you can for as long as you can. Stop. Catch your breath and repeat. Channel all of your anger and frustration into your scream. You’re using the pillow to muffle the scream so as not to frighten people within earshot.
It’s weird. I get it. We live in a world where being angry—screaming and banging things is weird— it’s just you, alone, in the privacy of your own space. Normal people don’t do things like that. Right? Well, normal people also hold onto anger, frustration, and sadness for years. What harm does THAT do?
Reps: Do this for two weeks too. Two minutes a day for two weeks. After that, just repeat as needed.
Exercise #3 : Passenger Seat Thump
Needed: Empty Parked Car and Car Keys
Finally, this is the simplest exercise of them all. We’ve all been at work and had a colleague (or a boss) who said or did something totally unexpected and out of line. After the shock, there’s usually frustration, anger, and maybe even some sadness. Not cool.
And honestly, it makes concentrating on the rest of the work day really hard. I know I’ve had moments professionally (sometimes personally) where I imagine the perfect comeback; it’s a verbal lashing that I would not ever actually deliver but ooooh! it feels so good to imagine.
Well, after we revisit the concept of choosing your moment and understanding the trigger, it’s important to release that anger. Being at work, Exercises 1&2 aren’t quite possible, since there’s no truly private place in the office.
So, take a break and go to your car. You can turn it on and blast some music or you can sit in silence. Sit in the driver’s seat or the passenger’s seat. Make a fist and punch the empty seat closest to you with the closest hand.
When sitting in the driver’s seat, it looks like you’re doing the thing when put your arm out to protect your passenger during an abrupt stop, except there’s no passenger, the car is not moving, and your punching the empty seat.
Reps: Honestly, this exercise always feels weird to me because cars have mirrors and generally parking lots have people. So, I may only do this one to three times, but that intentional act, alone, is enough to make me feel better and start the process of helping me release the emotion.
For more ideas on how to release your anger, check out this article on 7 Creative Ways To Express Hot Anger.
6. Forgiveness Is YOUR Inside Job.
Whatever your belief system, forgiveness is part of life. I’ll sit here and tell you that I’m still a work in progress around forgiveness, but I do know that it has nothing to do with the person I’m forgiving.
Forgiveness is each of our responsibilities because it allows us to move on with OUR lives and to release whatever energy you’re harboring toward another.
Once you’re able to process your anger, the next stop to living a fuller life is to forgive. Get all of the ick out of your system. You don’t have to forget the event, but you have to forgive it and stop identifying with the hurt.
Related: Forgiveness Is An Act Of Self Love
7. Prioritize Anger Release
Prioritizing anger release means to not only be intentional and responsible about how you handle your anger but also consistent. You can’t just start being intentional and then stop. When you start intentional about your emotions, specifically your anger, you can’t stop.
We’ve said this before, but it’s like going to the gym. If you stop going to the gym, you’re going to plump right back up. Going to the anger gym is the same thing. Releasing your anger is a lifelong exercise. You have to keep releasing it or you’ll just get heavy with built up anger, causing relationships to suffer and your mood to shift for the worse. So, prioritize your emotional health just as you prioritize your physical health.
8. Set Powerful Boundaries for YOURself.
Of the 8 practical ways to process your anger and live a fuller life, this last one, number 8 may be the most important. While learning tools to effectively release your anger is extraordinarily practical and useful, learning to set powerful boundaries for yourself is a skill that helps to protect you from situations that may trigger unhelpful emotions.
For instance, if waiting in lines causes you to lose your cool, set boundaries for yourself to limit the amount of lines you have to encounter. That means, get to airports early. Sign up for programs that allow you to bypass lines, like Get Global Entry to avoid customs lines and if you can’t afford to upgrade to business class or first class, get to the airport early. Use online services for the DMV and print your tickets at home for your next event.
Simple boundaries allow you to effectively manage your triggers and hopefully have a more peaceful experience of people and situations.
So, first and foremost know your triggers. Next learn how to either avoid them or manage them in such a way that you can acknowledge your feelings and appropriately manage your responses. Then always release your anger and all emotions intentionally. The steps, individually, are helpful when dealing with emotion, practicing these 8 steps as a process can really shed new light and help us understand ourselves and our responses in healthy ways.