Cooling down your anger with Mindfulness

Here is an extract from my book 'Mindfulness For Dummies'. It's the section on anger. Remember, the roots of anger is often fear, and mindfulness is an ideal tool to help you to unearth and manage that overactive part of the brain kicking off the fight or flight response. A bit of anger is okay, but mindfulness will help you to stay in control.

Cooling down your Anger

Anger can be healthy if the emotion is controlled and used sparingly. For example, if you’re being treated unfairly, you may need to become angry to ensure you’re treated justly and with respect. However, being out of control when you’re angry can cause tremendous harm both to yourself and to your relationships with others. Cooling down anger isn’t an easy process, and requires a clear decision, effort, and support from others. Mindfulness can help, as this section shows.

Understanding anger

Anger is a normal human emotion. If you’re mistreated, feeling angry is perfectly natural. The problem is what you do with the emotion if you hurt your- self or others with the anger.

Anger arises when you feel something should happen but it doesn’t. For example, if you receive bad customer support for something you’ve bought, or you see how much crime has gone up in your city and feel angry because the government should be taking more action.

Different situations make different people angry. Like all emotions, anger depends on the interpretation of the situation, rather than the situation itself. If someone at a checkout gives you the wrong amount of change and you see this as a mistake, you probably forgive her straight away and think nothing of the oversight. However, if you think that she did this to you on purpose, you’re more likely to become annoyed, frustrated or angry. So, it’s your inter- pretation that causes the anger, not the situation itself.

Anger arises from a thought or series of thoughts. Anger doesn’t just come up on its own. You may not be aware of the thought causing the anger you feel, but a thought must have arisen for the emotion to surface. For example, if you think ‘that cashier is out to rip me off’ you feel anger surging through your body almost instantly afterwards.

You experience certain physical sensations when angry such as tensing your shoulders, tightening your stomach, headache, clenching your hands or jaw, poor concentration, feeling sweaty, increasing your breathing rate, restless- ness, and a fast heart rate.

Coping when the fire rises up

You arrive home and your partner hasn’t cooked any food. You were working late and you begin to feel anger rising up in you. What do you do? You know that logically you’re far better off talking calmly about the issue and resolving the conflict rather than spoiling the evening with an argument. Here’s how:

1. Become aware of the physical sensation of anger in your body. Notice the sensations in your stomach, chest and face. Become aware of your rapid heart and breathing rate. Observe if your fists or jaw are clenched. Witness the tension in the rest of your body.

2. Breathe. Breathe into the physical sensations of your body. Close your eyes if you want to. You may find counting out ten breaths help- ful. Imagine the breath entering your nose into your belly, and as you breathe out, imagine the breath going out of your fingers and toes, if you find this useful.

3. Continue to stay with the sensations as best you can. Bring a sense of kindness and gentleness to your feelings of anger. Look at the discom- fort in the way you would look at scenery – taking your time and being with the landscape of your inner self. Try to see the anger as an oppor- tunity to understand about the feeling, how the burning rises up in your being, and how the breath may or may not have a cooling effect on the flame within you.

4. Notice your thoughts. Thoughts like ‘it’s not fair’ or ‘I’m not having this’ feed the fire of anger. Notice what effect you have by letting go of these thoughts, for your own health and wellbeing more than anything else. If you can’t let go of the thoughts, which is common, just continue to

watch the way thoughts and feelings feed into each other, creating and recreating the experience of anger as well as other feelings, like guilt, frustration and sadness. If you have lots of energy pumping through your body, try walking around the room and feeling the contact between your feet and the ground. Alternatively, instead of walking, you can try slow, mindful stretching, feeling the body as you extend your various muscle groups.

5. Step back. Take a step back from your internal experiences. Notice that you’re the observer of your thoughts and emotions and not the thoughts and emotions themselves. Just as images are projected onto a screen, but the screen itself is unaffected, so thoughts, emotions and sensations arise in awareness, but you, as awareness, are untouched.

6. Communicate. As soon as the main force of your anger has dissipated, you may need to communicate your feelings with the other person. Begin with ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ accusations. If you blame the other person for your feelings, you’re more likely to make her act defensively. If you say, ‘I felt angry when you didn’t cook dinner’ rather than, ‘You made me angry when you didn’t cook dinner’, you’re taking responsibility for your feelings. As you continue to communicate, stay aware and awake to your own feelings, and let go of any aggression if you can – less aggression and more honesty are more likely to lead to a harmonious and productive conversation and result.