Have you seen the animated movie Inside Out? There’s a character in it, Anger, whose head literally explodes every time he gets too worked up. It’s a great visual and it definitely doesn’t seem overly dramatic — we’ve all been there. Spoken over in a meeting, denied a raise or passed over for a promotion after going way above and beyond at work, let down by your partner when you needed them — you can probably feel your anger bubbling up right now just thinking about these things.
But is feeling angry — and expressing your rage — really the best way to move your life forward? Sometimes, yes. In the face of injustice, drawing on your anger may help you to fight for what’s right. According to psychologist Dr. Lauren Appio, anger “gives us energy to defend ourselves and others in the face of unfair treatment.” It’s a valid emotion, and judging ourselves for feeling angry isn’t the answer.
But in your interpersonal relationships, there’s usually a better way to communicate. As the great author Toni Morrison once said, anger is “a paralyzing emotion. You can't get anything done. People sort of think it's an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling — I don't think it's any of that. It's helpless. It's absence of control."
So the next time you start to feel angry and want to soothe yourself, try one of the following expert-approved techniques.
1. Ask yourself if your anger is reasonable.
This may be hard to do in the moment — head on fire, and all of that — but if you can take a few deep breaths and check in with yourself about why you’re angry, you may be able to calm yourself down without invalidating your feelings.
“Before you try to make your anger disappear, see if you can identify what is reasonable about your anger,” Appio tells BuzzFeed. “Would it be okay for other people to be angry in your situation? If it’s okay for them, it’s okay for you. Validating yourself does not mean you are going to lash out angrily. It simply allows you to check in with yourself about what you need and consider how you can get your needs met.”
2. Identify other emotions that your anger may be masking.
Your anger may be standing in for an emotion that makes you feel less powerful, says Appio, such as fear, hurt, or embarrassment. Try to breathe through your rage without acting on it, and talk yourself through the feelings that are buried beneath your anger. “Once you address those other feelings (either through self-validation, changing your situation, or communicating your needs), your anger should subside, too,” she notes.
3. Leave the room.
In her book Anger Management Essentials: A Workbook for People to Manage their Aggression, therapist Anita Avedian recommends “changing your scene” if you’re getting worked up. Leave the room, take a walk outside, just get yourself out of the situation that’s fueling your rage — and then try applying tips 1 and 2 from this list. Avedian says that taking a walk outside is particularly helpful when you’re angry because it releases endorphins, the “happy hormone,” which can “reduce the perception of pain.” If you’re fighting with another person, don’t just leave the room; be sure to tell them you need some time alone and that you’ll be back in 20 minutes (or whatever) to talk.
4. Talk to your inner child.
If your knee-jerk reaction is to scroll past this tip because it’s too “woo-woo,” hear me out: Psychologist Dr. Margaret Paul tells BuzzFeed that feeling angry at someone else can be an indication that you’re not taking care of yourself in a situation, so talking to your inner child can help you to not only calm down, but also to identify what’s wrong and be nicer to yourself.
“Imagine the angry part of you is a child within you having a temper tantrum, but who is really needing compassion. Imagine holding that angry child with kindness, caring, and compassion,” she says. “Ask that angry inner child what he or she is angry at you about. Are you not speaking up for yourself? Are you being compliant instead of honest? Are you ignoring your deeper feelings of heartbreak, loneliness, or helplessness over a person or situation?”
5. Learn to identify signs you might be angry without realizing it so it doesn’t catch you off guard.
Have you ever exploded on someone and then been shocked by your own behavior? You probably haven’t yet learned how anger physically manifests in your body.
“Many people don’t realize they’re angry until after they’ve reacted with anger,” psychologist Dr. Sari Chait tells BuzzFeed. She recommends “noting if your shoulders get tense or you clench your jaw or make a fist. Taking note of your thoughts and feelings is also important. Are you unable to think clearly? Do you have tunnel vision?”
Write these things down, then clock them when they start to show up in your body; to help the fires die down in the moment, take deep breaths or leave the room.
6. Do a body scan and release the tension in your body.
Most of us experience some physical manifestation of anger, so try this technique from Avedian: “Squeeze or tense up various areas in your body three times per section, for five seconds in length, and relax. Common body areas include shoulders, arms, hands, legs, and feet.” That should help to ease the physical tension and, in turn, calm your anger.
7. Watch something funny.
Have you ever been in the midst of a fight with a partner when suddenly they crack a joke and it instantly makes you feel lighter? Depending on the seriousness of the argument, this can be a recipe for disaster. But sometimes it really helps. Avedian recommends watching something funny, like a favorite stand-up comedy clip on YouTube, if you’re starting to get angry — especially over something relatively minor, like a sink full of unwashed dishes. “Learn to laugh at yourself,” she recommends.
8. Check in with yourself.
That “hangry” feeling is real — science says so. That’s why checking yourself in a heated moment is so important, says therapist Patrice Douglas. “Are you having a bad day? Are you hungry? Are you tired or just not feeling yourself? When feeling like this, we are often on edge and can take what someone says or does the wrong way, causing us to react in anger,” she adds.
9. Ask yourself if the person you’re angry at is really trying to hurt you.
We’ve all taken a friend or partner’s comment the wrong way, especially if we’re hungry, tired, or stressed. So taking a minute to think about the true intention of a seemingly hurtful remark can cool a situation down pretty quickly. Says Douglas, “When we get angry, our mind is perceiving someone as a threat and we must protect [ourselves], but sometimes, we take things wrong or hear it incorrectly.”
10. Write a letter.
Avedian says that writing a letter to the person who’s making you angry — a letter you’ll never send — is an effective coping method because it “allows for the child in us to act out, but constructively.” Just don’t write an email, she says — you don’t want to accidentally send it. Instead, write by hand or in a document on your computer.
11. Turn on some tunes.
According to therapist Sherry Shockey-Pope, co-founder of Central Counseling Services, listening to a favorite song — especially one that’s attached to happy memories — is a great way to dissipate anger. “Music is transforming, in that it is tied to many emotions,” she says. One minute you’re raging, and the next you’re singing and bopping along to Beyoncé’s “Love on Top.”
She also notes that songs with a speed of 60 to 80 beats per minute are soothing to the body, so she recommends making a playlist of those tunes and hitting play at the end of a hard day.
12. And remember to take care of yourself.
If you’re perpetually exhausted, overworked, not eating well, not exercising, and not spending time with people who love and support you, the likelihood of going from zero to 100 real quick is high. That’s why Shockey-Pope says good self-care habits are key to a more even-keeled you. So make time for yourself even when it feels impossible. Ask for help. Get outside. Go to bed earlier. Look for a new job if your current work situation is making you rage-y. You deserve to feel a whole lot less angry.