Anger is a natural response that has been ingrained into our psyches and our bodies by evolution itself. It is a full body response – one part of the ‘fight or flight’ response that launches our body into a kind of overdrive where we begin shaking and feeling sick with adrenaline. Back in the day we would use this ability to club our competitors over the head for trying to sleep with our sexual partners, or from attacking our children. This would ensure that our we stayed dominant and that we could protect our offspring and ourselves.
Today though there is a problem with that response, and it becomes very apparent when it is set off by our boss at work, or by our romantic partner. Of course this can get us into a lot of trouble causing us to lose our jobs and our spouses. In the extreme it can cause us to do something irrational and dangerous and even illegal that we regret for the rest of our lives, in the best case scenario it can still make us unpleasant to be around and push our closest friends and families away from us. In other situations it can just mean we break something in our home and end up with a bill and a bleeding hand. None of these are particularly preferable. In yet other situations the anger can be more chronic and less acute, such as when we’ve left the scene and just ‘stew’ on it. There is nothing we can do now so again all this will achieve is to make us angry, and to mean we are distracted and short for our subsequent interactions. The continuous release of adrenaline that happens as a result will damage our immune system and leave us susceptible to illness or heart disease.
Occasionally though anger is still useful, such as when a company refuses to pay you back for a service they failed to deliver, or when someone tries to steel your wallet. At the same time, bottling anything up is dangerous, and doing so can also lead to problems. As such then the best course of action is rather to learn to control that anger and to use it in your favour. To turn it into power in the gym or motivation to succeed, to stand up for yourself, but never in a way that means you are no longer in control.
There are two ways to deal with a bout of anger. One is to neutralise it, and another is to redirect it. To neutralise it there are several things you can do. For example you can address the physical symptoms of the anger and slow your breathing in order to slow your heart rate and to neutralise the adrenaline. Simply smiling can sometimes cause ‘facial feedback’ and flood your body with ‘happy hormones’ to counteract those anger hormones. Cognitively think about how you do not gain anything from the anger. If you are in a dispute on the road for example, realise that if you leave angrily then they will have won. Instead just laugh and drive away and imagine them simmering while you have a smile on your face. This is very Zen and at the end of the day is much better for you. Similarly if you think about what you would actually achieve by being angry it can often help to dissipate the blind rage – where would you direct it? For example think of the motives of the person causing you anger. Often they are well intentioned, or perhaps it is not that persons fault (for example if it is someone in a help centre). Think about how shouting at them would just ruin their day rather than improving yours and your anger can often be overtaken by sympathy.
Often our anger is caused by a perceived affront to our dignity or honour. If someone pushes in front of you in a queue for example, it is easy to become very angry. When you think about what a minor inconvenience this is it can seem churlish that we get so angry. This is because the actual reason is not that we have been set back, but that we have been made to look stupid in front of others. Again this is likely a hangover from our days in the wild and in more chivalrous and violent times and is particularly the case for men. What you have to realise here is that you are actually being the bigger man by letting it go which is a more honourable decision. Usually they will get their comeuppance at a later date, and just letting it go and letting someone else get angry is simply the more tactical thing to do. It is no affront on your manhood, and even if it was – no one is watching.
If you do have some anger though you can redirect it. Think about it when you are in the gym or doing a sport and use it as motivation. Alternatively save it up for the person who is responsible – for example by writing a letter to the company rather than by shouting at the person on the phone – but only where it can actually have a chance of achieving something. This way you are using your anger usefully.
In other rare circumstances it can actually pay to create the feelings of anger. For example if you feel you need to speak up and get your voice heard, but are afraid of the consequences, then sometimes anger can help you to overcome fear. In this scenario do all of the opposite things you would to calm down (except hyperventilating which is more likely to just cause you to pass out). For example, think about all of the ways in which you have been wronged, and ask yourself why they should get away with it? Focus on how angry you will be later if you do not act, and generally work yourself up until you make your stand.