There it is again.
Anger has once again reared its head- in the form of daily frustrations or even deep-seated resentment.
Whatever you did- whether you snapped at your spouse, child, or another loved one, had a bit of road rage, flipped off your boss from the safe seat of your bathroom stall after they flipped your schedule on its head, or just gotten frustrated over the world as a whole not "doing what you wanted it to"- you've become angry, and often done something as a result that left you less-than-pleased with yourself.
I know how this feels as well as anyone. As anyone else with kids can (and will) attest to, kids test the limits of your patience from day 1, and they only get better at the "game" as the years go on (my oldest is 4 and I doubt he's at his peak).
Each and every one of us is familiar with the possessive quality of anger. It affects each one of us the same way (but some of us more than others). When we get angry, we can "become another person" so to speak.
The emotion of anger is like a huge wave hitting a rock, it smashes into the rock uncontrollably and the water from the wave continues to cover the rock for some time afterward.
It can often seem as though anger is this uncontrollable force which takes over us and is altogether unpreventable.
But anger isn't an unpreventable or even uncontrollable force, it's an emotion which we can develop the ability to handle skillfully. By skillfully, I mean we can develop the ability the manage it, overcome it, and let it go without causing ourselves the same level of pain and headache as it once caused us.
8 Ways to Let Go of Anger and Stay Calm in Frustrating Situations
So how do we overcome our anger skillfully? There are many ways to go about handling anger more skillfully, but none of them have to do with running from it or "cooling off" in some unhealthy way.
I want to make sure to mention before we get into this list that there are two very unhealthy ways of dealing with anger:
- Stepping away from it- This doesn't work because we only end up coming back to the same situation and having the same reaction to it- anger. In order to handle anger more skillfully we need to transform our relationship with it at the source (leaning in to it).
- "Blowing off steam"- The very saying to "blow off steam" is a perfect example of why this doesn't work effectively- blow off steam now and there will just be more steam later to be blown off. Not to mention, blowing off steam means to take out that anger and frustration on something else, something generally less "harmful" (like a punching bag). But this breeds a bad tendency altogether: that to handle your anger and frustration you believe you need to damage something else.
Below are 8 ways to overcome anger skillfully (effectively) and in a healthy way, let it go, and prevent it from arising in the first place (developing the ability to stay calm in frustrating situations).
As I mentioned in the introduction, anger is something which affects all of us (albeit at varying degrees). To whatever extent anger affects your own life, I hope these points can be of use to you.
1. Identify the expectation & let it go
This is one of the single most powerful techniques for handling anger skillfully.
We don't notice it, but most of the things we get angry about on a day-to-day basis are the result of the many expectations we live with.
We expect to get to work by a certain time, we expect to get home by a certain time, we expect to have fun on the weekend, we expect to have an enjoyable night after we get off of work, we expect our kids to behave, we expect this and that and that and this...
It's pretty irrational, but if you take the time to think about it, we live our entire lives with all kinds of irrational expectations. And it's when the world doesn't align with these expectations that we most often get angry.
In this case, the very knowledge of that truth is often all that's needed to begin creating healing.
Know that the expectations you have can be the cause of a great amount of anger on a daily basis, and that letting go of these expectations (one-by-one, as you notice them arise), is the answer to releasing ourselves from so much of the anger we feel in our day-to-day lives.
When you notice anger begin to arise, do this simple exercise:
- Acknowledge the anger mindfully ("that guy just cut me off...").
- See what you're trying to "make happen" in that moment. That's a sign of your expectation (I'm trying to get home from a long day at work...).
- Realize the expectation ("I expect to get home by 5:00 P.M." or "I expect to get home from work smoothly, without interruptions or traffic or added frustrations after the already long day I've had").
- Let go of the expectation ("I'll get home whenever I get home"). This is accepting the present moment fully "as it is", however that is.
Ultimately, this exercise has the ability to teach you that these expectations are very much resistance of the present moment, or reality itself. We try to change the world around us constantly to fit what we want (that's what it's all about for so many of us), and when it doesn't conform, we get angry.
Learn to let go of these expectations and see how transformative it can be.
2. Live openly (living without these expectations, moving on further from the last point)
Moving on from the last point, live "openly" in a way that you don't hold as many expectations to prevent these situations from occurring in the first place.
How do you do this? After some time of noticing the various expectations you hold, or groups of expectations, you can begin to identify patterns.
And it's through this that you can start releasing yourself from these patterns of expectation in the first place and rid yourself of their "hold" altogether.
Continue to follow the exercise in point #1 and you'll eventually develop the ability to stop these expectations at the gate, instead of only dealing with them after they arise.
This can take time, but it's very liberating.
3. Pay attention to your body
Without practice, it can be difficult to notice just how closely interconnected our bodies are to our minds.
Through meditation practice, especially something like mindful breathing, we can become closely connected with our bodies and realize that when we experience emotions there's often an accompanied physical reaction.
Your reaction might not be the same from mine or someone else's, but we all have them: heat in your head or throughout the rest of your body, a churning feeling in your stomach, a shaky feeling throughout your body, the clenching of your fists (especially if you're apt to be physical, but not necessarily), or tenseness in your facial muscles.
By working to become mindful of your body (through a meditation practice like mindfulness of body, or mindfulness practice in general), you can actually identify the anger as it arises and handle it more skillfully before it even becomes a problem.
This might mean taking care of the physical sensation (releasing the tension in your hands, face, or another part of your body) or simply using the physical sensation as an indicator and doing something else to calm yourself (breathing, acknowledging the anger mindfully).
Whatever it is, paying close attention to your body can help you learn to let go of anger and manage yourself far better in frustrating situations.
4. Observe and contemplate on those around you
This is all about dealing with anger when you get into a mutual argument.
See that both you and the other person are angry, and that the anger has essentially taken control of both of you (to some extent).
See that the anger is not only natural, but that without developing the ability to handle it skillfully you're essentially at its whim, and so both you and the other person could have both said and done things you really didn't mean to do.
If you can see this simple idea clearly in your mind at the moment of the argument, it can help relieve frustration and give you the ability to put the anger "under the microscope" so to speak to bring clarity to the entire situation.
Even if you don't do this at the moment the argument happens, this can still be very beneficial later on as something to meditate on for a future resolution. And the more you practice it, the better you get at it.
5. Cultivate understanding
At the heart of anger is a lack of understanding.
So it makes sense that through cultivating a deeper understanding of a particular person or event we can learn to let go of our anger towards it entirely.
How do you do this? There are many ways this can be done, but one way I've used repeatedly (to much success), is a simple technique I call "Healing through Understanding".
This is a simple technique I use ALL the time to help me relieve anger, stress, and frustration and let go of expectations. And it can be done by anyone with just a little imagination.
How do you practice it? The idea is to take the person or event and brainstorm as many possibilities as you can for their behavior/its occurrence. You don't even need to know why they actually did it, just brainstorm (think of possibilities).
By doing so you'll begin to gain clarity, loosen the stranglehold of anger and frustration, and can often let go of the expectation and the anger altogether.
To get more detailed instruction on this meditation you can pick up my free guide, "5 Ways I Use Mindfulness Meditation Every Day to Live More Fully, Freely, and Peacefully in the Present Moment".
6. Cultivate compassion
It's hard to stay angry at someone you love, isn't it?
That's because (at least usually...), while they might annoy, anger, and frustrate you from time to time, you have love and compassion for them, and when you gain your head back from the episode of anger your compassion and understanding often takes over and begins to "cool" the anger down from there. However, that doesn't keep you from lashing out in anger. Doing so leads to an apology after you've done something.
You can be more proactive than that by meditating on love and compassion either during or right after a difficult situation.
This is the practice of loving-kindness meditation (or rather, a sort of modified or "shortened" version of it), and it can be used throughout your day to help transform feelings of anger towards another person into feelings of love, compassion, and kindness.
The idea's simple: think of someone you love dearly and imagine the feelings of love you have for that person swelling up as high as they will go.
Next, imagine yourself transferring these feelings of love and compassion to the person you've become angry at. If you were partly at fault as well you can start by sending feelings of love to yourself first, then imagining the person you love, and then lastly the person you've become angry with.
This isn't necessarily an instant solution, but it is useful for two reasons: 1) with practice you can completely transform the anger and, 2) done even once the exercise can create a great healing and help to begin cooling the anger.
7. Sit with it
One of the most effective things you can do is simply to sit in meditation and be mindful of the emotion.
To do this, sit down and begin following your breath mindfully.
Don't search out the anger, let it arise naturally and recognize it when it does (you can recognize it a few times, say 3-6, or sit with it for a certain period of time).
This will not only help ease the anger but it will help you discover the true source of it if it's hidden from view so to speak.
Through gaining this sort of deep clarity you can transform your very relationship with the source of the anger, instead of simply cooling the anger temporarily.
You can check out this guide to begin your home meditation practice and start sitting in meditation.
Use these meditation instructions to develop the ability to notice thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise in you and eventually be able to identify the anger with great clarity (with practice).
8. Cultivate forgiveness (when the anger is deep)
Sometimes, the anger originates from something deeper than our day-to-day activity.
Most often, this is the result of what someone did to us further in the past.
This sort of anger is very dangerous because it stays with us. It often turns into resentment as time goes on because we see how this anger has made us suffer, and resent the person for the way they've made us suffer all this time.
Oddly enough, this once again has to do with our expectations (our expectations about the person), but in this case, it can be difficult to notice this before the situation occurs, so the way we need to deal with it is often entirely different.
To deal with this sort of deep-seated resentment or anger, meditate on forgiveness.
To meditate on forgiveness, conjure an image of the person in your mind. Make this image as clear as can be.
Next, conjure up the event or events which led to these feelings of anger.
There are a few ways to do this meditation, but for the sake of the example, you'll be focusing on forgiving the person in question when you notice those feelings of anger and resentment arise.
This version of the meditation is very similar to meditating on love and compassion, but with a focus on forgiving a specific person usually for a specific event (but it can be their general behavior as well).
In a similar light, the "Healing through Understanding" exercise can also be a powerful meditation to use to cultivate forgiveness.
This isn't a necessarily easy meditation to do, and it can take time to cultivate true forgiveness, but if the wound is deep the healing often must also be so to counterbalance it.
Let Go of the Coal
No matter how you choose to handle your anger, understand that you need to have the courage to face it head-on and deal with it from the source to truly overcome it.
Live mindfully, meditate on the source of your anger, and learn to release the expectations you live with in your day-to-day life and you'll master anger once and for all.
In what types of situations do you find yourself most susceptible to anger? Which of these techniques do you think can help you the most? I'd love to hear from you. :)