While you’ll probably never be able rid your world of people or incidents that enrage you, you can learn to control your reaction to them. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
• Think before you speak. When you feel yourself entering into anger, pause. The ancient Greeks tell us that the best cure for anger is to delay it. Counting to 10 does this nicely and, if you’re really angry, make it 100. Ponder carefully the consequences of your angry outburst before–not after–you explode. The regret you might feel at making a fool of yourself will probably be more painful than whatever triggered your irritation in the first place. No matter how you reframe “hotheaded loudmouth,” you can’t make it into an admirable characteristic. An angry outburst can adversely affect reasonable relationships forever.
• Try humor. When the situation seems to call for an angry outburst, stop, and tell yourself “This is a test. The Universe is testing my sense of calm and I will get an A in peaceful resolution of conflict.” Wallow in your new sense of goodness. Crack a joke. Practice irony. Take comfort in the knowledge that people who burst into angry rages are not the brightest of our planetary citizens.
• Keep it in perspective. Be able to say to yourself “I’m not going to have a tantrum because the third box of pens is missing from my drawer this week.” One of the most embarrassing aspects of anger is to recall your behavior the following day. The most predominant morning-after response is regret. If you need more perspective, imagine how you’d feel if the recipient of your anger were to die during the next 24 hours. No opportunity for apologizing, no chance ever to make amends. And over something so silly.
• Change your timing. This is a good one if anger erupts in your household with predictable regularity. If you and your partner tend to fight when you’re both exhausted, try to avoid discussing important issues during this time. Monitor the times when tense moments arise and you’ll have a better chance of circumventing an argument. If you’re at each other’s throats more often than not, however, something’s amiss in the relationship. Anger in this case may be a symptom of deep, unresolved issues. Your best bet, if you want to keep the relationship, would be to see a therapist.
• Give yourself a break. Make sure you have some personal down time scheduled for periods you know are particularly stressful. If you’re an outside-the-home working mother who flares when the kids leap on you as you walk through the door at 5:30, make a rule that “Nobody talks to mom for 15 minutes after she gets home.” Your kids may not like it at first, but they’ll soon realize that (a) you basically adore them, and (b) you’re not blowing up at them quite as often as before.
• Learn some relaxation strategies. Meditation and yoga (which involves deep breathing) are great stress-reducers and extremely helpful when anxiety is making you feisty. You might also want to learn guided imagery. Of course you can always visualize a relaxing experience, but even more effective may be to visualize yourself in an angry state. Nothing is as effective as anger when it comes to an unsightly distortion of what you thought were your good looks. Few people look gorgeous during an outburst of fury. As a bonus, if you’re angry often enough, you’ll etch deep frown lines into your face permanently.
• Distract yourself with music. If you’re on the threshold of anger, de-fuse yourself by listening to 20 to 30 minutes of soothing music. Select music you love, but make sure it’s something that will soothe you down rather than jazz you up. Then get comfortable, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breath, breathing deeply from your diaphragm (belly), not your chest. If you can, wear a headset, which will focus your attention.
• Schedule regular exercise. A routine of vigorous walking, jogging, swimming, biking, dancing, or even weeding the garden for 20 minutes a day can be just the mellow-making tonic you need. If you have pent-up anger that needs to be expressed, sign up for a kick-boxing, Aikido, or Tai-Bo class. Any regular vigorous exercise will improve your mood and reduce stress, and also lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure an average 6 to 7 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury).
The next time your temper starts to rise, put one or two of these ideas into practice. You’ll be well on your way to stopping anger in its tracks.