How to Calm Down: 24 Things to Do When You’re Angry
Are you an angry bird? Try these simple tricks to chill and think before you act.
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Do something, don’t stew
If you are angry with a politician, policy, or other public injustice, do something about it. In one study, researchers from the University of Wisconsin tracked the brain-wave patterns in students who had just been told the university was considering big tuition increases. They all exhibited brain patterns signifying anger, but signing a petition to block the tuition increases seemed to provide satisfaction. Put simply, working to right a wrong is life-affirming and positive. Stewing in a bad situation without taking action is the opposite. However, your bad mood might not be situational; these 8 medical conditions might be the reason for your bad mood.
Don’t beat up your pillow
Think hitting something will feel cathartic and help you reduce your anger? Punching a pillow (or a person) doesn’t help, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Contrary to popular belief, these common reactions don’t decrease your anger. In fact, the researchers found they may actually increase your hostility.
Take three deep breaths
When you’re angry, your body becomes tense, says Robert Nicholson, PhD, a former assistant professor of community and family medicine at Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, MO. Breathing deeply helps you learn how to calm down by lowering your internal anger meter. Deep breathing is just one of the many ways you can instantly turn a bad mood around.
Understand your anger
Think like a detective and track down clues about the kinds of situations, people, and events that trigger your anger, says Nicholson. Once you’re aware of them, try to avoid them if possible. If you can’t avoid them, at least you’ll know to anticipate them, which will give you more time to prepare for them so they don’t affect you so negatively. You can also think of the situation as an opportunity to practice not getting worked up. Next time you start to feel the anger boiling up inside you, try these 7 tricks to help you work through your frustrations without complaining.
Don’t lose it
Whoever loses it, loses. Losing your temper makes you look like the bad guy to everyone else, no matter who is really at fault, says Tina Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist in Long Beach, CA, and the author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction. To learn how to calm down fast, visualize a scene in which you got angry and replay the tape several times, each time envisioning yourself responding a different way. You’re actually rehearsing different reactions and giving yourself new options. The next time you’re close to losing your temper, one of these options will pop into your mind, providing you with a better response.
Go for a walk
When you get really angry, walk away from the source, Tessina says. A 5-minute walk outside or another calming activity like yoga are both great coping strategies for dealing with anger. If your anger stems from the traffic jam you’re stuck in, turn up the radio and sing at the top of your lungs. The idea: Create a mental or physical escape from the situation.
Another mental trick you can use is to picture a red stop sign in your mind or wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it whenever you find your anger beginning to boil. Then, take a few minutes to put the issue into perspective and ask yourself if it’s worth the humiliation that comes from becoming overtly angry, Nicholson says.
Know the signs
Recognize your own personal signs of escalating anger. Those might be clenched fists, trembling, flushing, or sweating. Then, use deep breathing to regain control of yourself before your anger erupts, suggests Catheleen Jordan, PhD, a professor of social work at the University of Texas at Arlington, in Arlington, TX. If you’re not sure about your own anger warning signs, ask a friend or family member. They’ll know! Check out these 9 different types of anger and find out which one you’re experiencing.
Give yourself a pinch
Here’s how to calm down fast: Pinch yourself every time you hear yourself using the words “never” or “always.” The all-or-nothing mentality only shortens your fuse even more, which doesn’t help you learn how to deal with anger. Instead, suggests Nicholson, look at things in shades of gray instead of black and white. Acknowledge that sometimes life is unfair and sometimes the person who is making you angry does the wrong thing. But don’t fuel the fires with phrases like “always disappoints” or “never comes through.” And don’t pinch yourself so much that it causes bruises or other injuries!
Try this routine
Take “self-control” time. It works to get children to calm down, says Jon Oliver, author of Lesson One: The ABCs of Life, in Ventura, CA, so it should work with angry grown-ups, too. Here’s how to do it: Sit up proud and relaxed wherever you may be (a couch, the floor, a chair, etc.). Place your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Extend your hands palm down and place them gently in your lap. Make sure your elbows are naturally back by your sides. Relax your shoulders so the muscles around them are neither tight nor tense. Breathe deeply in through your nose and exhale through your mouth to help your body relax into this position. Close your eyelids lightly and continue breathing deeply. When using self-control time as a regular part of the day, it should last approximately 3 minutes. When using it as a way to help regain self-control, it should last approximately 1 minute. If this routine doesn’t work for you, you can try one of these 14 other five-second strategies for shutting down stress.
Diffuse the situation with laughter
When dealing with angry family members, find a way to make them laugh. This is a trick family therapists often use, says Jordan. For instance, take a quick photo of yourself with a silly or contrite expression, print it out, and put it on a family member’s pillow. Or do some silly dancing together, or hide a gift in the mashed potatoes served at dinner. The point is to do something together that is lighthearted and fun. Not only does this defuse the anger, but it reminds everyone that you are in this family together, forever, and that love and forgiveness remain in ample supply.
Understand how to move forward
Remember that anger is really a messenger, trying to call your attention to something that is wrong, Jordan says. So ask yourself exactly what is bothering you right now. Use the anger as a simple indication that something can and should be changed to improve things in the future.
Don’t put your anger on display
Remember, too, that displays of anger don’t accomplish anything except to anger or intimidate others. Anger should not be used as a disciplinary tool, a communication method, or an emotional weapon for how to deal with anger, Jordan says. It is a damaging, personal, emotional state that is symptomatic of an underlying problem. So don’t ever let yourself use anger as a threat, particularly with your children. Your anger should be your problem, not theirs. Look out for these 11 telltale signs you’re being passive-aggressive.
Set a timer
When you’re angry, look at your watch. Let the second-hand sweep across the dial at least two minutes before you take any action, says Ron Potter-Efron, author of Stop the Anger Now, in Eleva, WI. By then, you’ll have had time to think and can act in a more appropriate way. Plus, it’s kind of a Zen thing to watch time move and learn how to calm down.
Write a forgiveness letter or email
You don’t even have to send it. Just the act of writing it will lighten the load of anger you’ve been carrying. If you want to resume your relationship with the person or persons with whom you’ve been angry, however, then hit the send button. One major study from Hope College in Michigan found that when volunteers thought about a person they were angry with, their blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension spiked. But when they imagined themselves forgiving the other person—just imagined it!—their blood pressure, etc., didn’t rise nearly as much.
True empathy means getting into another person’s head and heart to both understand and feel that individual’s experience. You can do this in numerous ways: visualizing the situation through the other person’s eyes; writing a story from the other person’s perspective of the situation; telling the story to a friend taking the other person’s perspective, Jordan says. Don’t miss these 17 medical reasons you’re always so irritable.
Compare yourself to your kids
Try out a different perspective to help you deal with anger, Tessina says. For instance, when you’re angry with your parents, think about your kids. How do you want them to feel about you when they’re your age? Wouldn’t you want them to understand that you were only doing the best you could at the time? Suddenly, that 20-year-old lingering hurt won’t be as sharp.
Know these core truths
Acknowledge some core truths about people: Most people act out of the belief that they are doing the right thing. Most people are not malicious, mean-spirited, or backstabbing. Most people are more sensitive and insecure than they let on. Most people aren’t very good judges of how their actions affect others. In other words, we’re neither villains nor saints. We’re all just people—struggling to lead happy, healthy, meaningful lives in a complicated world. Even the people who anger you. Particularly them. With this in mind, forgiveness comes much easier. Find out how to take the high road in 9 sticky situations.
Don’t shoot the messenger
If you’re going to get angry, make sure it’s directed at the correct person and focused on action—not just venting on the poor soul who is simply caught in the crossfire, Jordan says. This advice is particularly important when you’re dealing with people who work in the service industry. Is it the fault of the service technician that his company only allows him to book appointments in three-hour blocks? No, but his manager could probably fix things, especially if you ask kindly.
iStock/© Petro Feketa
Writing out your feelings really does help you feel better, according to a UCLA study. So if you’re looking to calm down fast, grab your journal and write it all out. You can simply write your own feelings or try writing a letter to the person who upset you. You never have to send it and just writing it will help you feel better. Don’t miss these 12 proven steps to truly forgive anyone for anything.
Know that everyone gossips
It’s one of the fundamental rules we teach our children: Just because someone says it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Hearing gossip about yourself can be understandably painful and make you angry, but if you take a step back you’ll realize that what other people are saying doesn’t have to define who you are, says Fran Walfish, an author and psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, CA.
Talk about your anger
It’s not just writing that helps diffuse anger—expressing it verbally can be incredibly calming, Walfish says. The trick is not to unload your anger on the person making you upset but to decompress by talking with a neutral friend, family member, or therapist. A neutral observer can bring some perspective to the situation. You can even try talking out loud to yourself about it. Here are 37 more stress management tips you should try.
Take a ride
Exercise can help people lower their levels of anger and other negative emotions, according to a study published in The Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Get on your bike and go for a half-hour ride. Or jump up and down on a trampoline. Or go for a vigorous swim or attack the weeds in your garden. Any kind of vigorous, intense physical activity gives you the tools you need to learn how to deal with anger.
Use the “5” trick
One of the best things you can do when you’re feeling hot-tempered is to put it into perspective, Walfish says. To do this, ask yourself, “Will this matter in 5 minutes? 5 days? 5 years?” If the answer is “no” then it’s not worth getting angry over. Now that you’ve learned how to keep your anger in check, try some of these little changes that will make you a happier person.
- Cognitive Emotion: “Anger, Coping, and Frontal Cortical Activity: The Effect of Coping Potential on Anger-Induced Left Frontal Activity.”
- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “Catharsis, Aggression, and Persuasive Influence: Self-Fulfilling or Self-Defeating Prophecies?”
- Robert Nicholson, PhD, former assistant professor of community and family medicine at Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, MO.
- Tina Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist in Long Beach, CA.
- CCatheleen Jordan, PhD, a professor of social work at the University of Texas at Arlington, in Arlington, TX.
- Jon Oliver, author of Lesson One: The ABCs of Life, Ventura, CA.
- Ron Potter-Efron, author of Stop the Anger Now, Eleva, WI.
- Fran Walfish, PsyD, psychotherapist and author in Beverly Hills, CA.