Healthy anger entails learning to:
• Calm Your Body in Order to Calm Your Mind
• Become Less Reactive to Your Thoughts and Feelings
• Recognize Key Thoughts and Thinking That Make You Vulnerable to Anger Arousal
• Identify and Sit with Negative Feelings without Impulsively Acting on Them
• Recognize Key Desires That Are behind Your Anger
• Increase Your Connection with Yourself: Your Feelings, Thoughts and Your Body
• Develop Communication Skills That Are Assertive Rather than Aggressive
• Recognize and Alter Expectations That Make You Vulnerable to Anger
• Learn to Recognize and Reduce Feeling Threatened When No Real Threat Exists
• Recognize the Role Shame, Anxiety, and Depression May Play in Destructive Anger
Some strategies can help us to pause even when we may not be fully available to explore our anger more fully. These might be considered “hacks”, strategies that momentarily “work-around” the need for deeper reflection. While such hacks provide little self-understanding of our anger, they can be quite effective to curb its escalation when it does arise. The following are several such hacks.
Take several deep breaths, inhaling through your nose to a count of 4, hold for 4 and exhale for 6. This is one pattern of breathing has been found to be highly effective in achieving such calm.
Identify a pair of words to say to yourself
Identify and rehearse evoking a word-pair that help to create a pause to reflect rather than react. Examples are STOP or GO, CONSTRUCTIVE/DESTRUCTIVE, RED LIGHT/ GREEN LIGHT, and HELPFUL/NOT. Envision them as being on a flash card.
Visualize a positive context
Primarily used with a friend, partner or other family member, this strategy calls for evoking an image of a moment in which you experienced greater caring or love for that person. This helps you to consider the bigger picture, the greater nature of your relationship.
Visualize others as children
I’ve found it helpful to think of all adults as being children, just trying our best to be adults. Being human, we make mistakes and have flaws. Additionally, it reflects the reality that we may impulsively act from our emotional brain without taking time for reflection–a defining quality of children.
Visualize a clear plastic wall between you
Visualize a clear plastic wall between you, just like the ones we have become accustomed to see at the check-out cashiers of supermarkets. Imagine that you are a third party observing the situation through this wall a barrier that can serve as a reminder that you are safe, even when you perceive that you are not.
Recognize Unrealistic Expectations
All too often, with and without full awareness, we maintain unrealistic expectations that increase our vulnerability to become angry. We have unrealistic expectations of others, the world in general and ourselves. These include expectations that “Others should behave as I do.” “Life should be fair” “If my partner really loves me (s)he should...”. These are often expectations that may exist below the radar of our awareness and are especially inaccessible when we are angry. And then respond to it with a phrase such as "Nice theory".
This requires cultivating mindfulness as part of an on-going commitment in order to practice it during the moment of anger arousal. Mindfulness entails observing your thoughts, feelings or physical sensations as experiences that you need not embrace. Mindfulness offers you the capacity to step back and observe your internal experiences without being overwhelmed by them. As such, caught up in the moment of anger you could observe your body’s tension including shallow or rapid breathing and an increased heart rate.
Sometimes the easiest strategy is to withdraw from the situation. If this is the case with a loved one, identify a phrase or word in advance. Tell your partner that it is your goal to work on your anger and that you will say this word when you need to withdraw. Ideally, just leave the room and not the house.
Make a menu of strategies
One of the most meaningful ways to do this is to write a menu consisting of these hacks and any others you find to be effective. Place the list in a place that can be easily and frequently observed. In this way you will repeatedly see them and–by doing–so make them a part of your ongoing awareness.