Letting go of anger

A man chained to anger will never be free to pursue happiness.

Our brains are hard-wired to react before thinking - and knowing that is half the battle in overcoming our anger.

This post is about how to become a calmer person by letting go of your anger.

I used to get angry about the silliest things.

Sometimes I got really angry.

It didn't take much to get me wound up.

Sadly it was quite a while before I realised I was in control all along.

I think I made excuses for myself - that life's circumstances had ground me down and it wasn't fair that I'd been treated the way I had but that's all they were - excuses. Self-serving lies to absolve myself of the need for self-control.

Silly things would rile me up; being stuck behind a particularly slow motorist, receiving an unexpected bill or just using Microsoft Windows from time to time.

I'm even sorry to say that I can remember at least one special occasion that I ruined by being unable to contain my anger and others suffered because of it.

Although I never allowed my anger to rise to the level of physical violence, the simple truth is that for a long period in my life, I was poisoning myself with rage.

The science of anger

The amygdala is located in the temporal lobe of your brain and controls emotion - it triggers the fight or flight response to various external factors and is designed by evolution to help you cope instantly to potential threats or dangers. Unfortunately once your amygdala has taken the driving seat, the frontal lobe's rational decision making takes a temporary back-seat because the amygdala is hogging the blood-flow.

Your adrenal glands flood your system with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisone to give you a boost, glucose and fatty acids are released to fuel the anticipated response and your blood pressure and heart-rate spike as your muscles are flooded with blood to prepare you to run (or punch something).

In the meantime blood is rushing to your frontal lobe to trigger rational decision making but that's a few seconds behind the chemical response triggered by the amygdala...

It doesn't take a medical expert to guess that flooding your arteries with fatty acids and ramping up your heart rate isn't particularly good for you. Bear in mind - raising your heart rate as part of an exercise programme is good - raising it due to a stress hormonal response... not so good.

Regular uncontrolled anger has been medically linked to heart-disease, liver and kidney damage, anxiety and depression.

Learning to control your anger


Take a slow deep breath

One of the first keys to controlling your anger is understanding that delay between the amygdala releasing all those crazy hormones into your system and your frontal lobe getting the blood flow back so it can suggest a more rational course of action.

If you take a slow deep breath before reacting, you give your brain chance to shift back into thinking mode. If necessary, take another one. :)

Ask yourself, 'why am I angry?'

This might not seem very useful until you consider that the reason you're angry might actually be ridiculously trivial.

If somebody is driving slowly in front of you, will screaming at them make them go any faster?

No. They can't even hear you.

If you start honking your horn they'll just think you're a crazy person - it will never occur to them that it's because they're driving too slowly. Crawlers gonna crawl.

Leave

All the slow, controlled breathing in the world isn't going to help if the situation that made you angry is still there.

Walk away.

If you're in the middle of an argument, tell the person that you need to leave the situation so that you can calm down. In my experience, women are much better than men at this.

Guys - if a woman says she needs some space to calm down, that is exactly what she means. If you're smart, you'll give her the space. If you're not (and I speak from experience here) you'll follow her and keep pushing your point trying to reach an immediate resolution that will never come because you're not letting her calm down.

Learn to Mediate

Meditation is awesome. It helps you really understand what you're actually feeling, why you might be feeling that way and over time, give you more control over how you respond to emotional situations.

You don't have to be a buddhist monk in an isolated temple of Tibet to meditate. It can be done anywhere quiet and has nothing to do with religion (although it's an important component of many religions with good reason).

Summing Up

Uncontrolled anger ruins peoples' lives.

In many cases it leads to violence and destroys relationships - yet it can be so easily controlled.

Sometimes the inability to control ones' anger can be a sign of a medical issue but more often than not it's just a sign of poor self-control.

The good news is that with practice, anger can be controlled and life can become a much happier, smoother experience.

Disclaimer

I still get irritated at things. Sometimes I still get angry (particularly if I haven't meditated for some time).

I'm not a buddha, I have to live in the real world and I'm much better at managing my anger than I used to be. These days I'm more irritated than irrationally angry. :)

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