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.
Vent, 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.
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Don’t beat up your pillow
If you’re wondering how to calm down, forget about punching a pillow, a wall, or the object of your anger. Contrary to popular belief, these common reactions don’t decrease your anger. In fact, studies find, they only increase your hostility.
Take three deep breaths
When you’re angry, your body becomes tense, says Robert Nicholson, PhD, assistant professor of community and family medicine at Saint Louis University. Breathing deeply helps you learn how to calm down by lowering your internal anger meter.
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Understand your anger
Think like a detective and track down clues about the kinds of situations, people, and events that trigger your anger, says Dr. 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.
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 Southern California psychotherapist Tina Tessina, PhD, 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.
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Go for a walk
When you get really angry, walk away from the source. A five-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 and/or physical escape from the situation.
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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.
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. If you’re not sure about your own anger warning signs, ask a friend or family member. They’ll know!
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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 Dr. 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.”
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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, 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 three minutes. When using it as a way to help regain self-control, it should last approximately one minute.
If this routine doesn’t work for you, you can try one of these other 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 Dr. 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.
Don’t put your anger on display
Remember, too, that displays of anger don’t accomplish anything except to anger or intimidate others. It is not a disciplinary tool, a communication method, or an emotional weapon for how to deal with anger. 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.
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. 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.
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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.
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Compare yourself to your kids
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.
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Don’t shoot the messenger
Get angry with the person who can make a difference, not the poor soul who is simply caught in the crossfire. 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.
If you’re looking for how to calm down fast, do this constantly. To the president of the company that just laid you off. To the friend who dissed you. To the politician who raised your taxes. Some you’ll send, some you won’t. But all will help you corral your anger and express it in a worthwhile, healthy way.
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Know that everyone gossips
Understand that someone, somewhere, is gossiping about you, because that’s what people do, but understand also that it has absolutely no impact on your life.
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Talk about your anger
This is different from expressing it; talking about it means unloading and decompressing with a friend, going over the situation with a neutral observer who can bring some perspective to the situation, or even talking out loud to yourself about it (preferably when no one else can hear you).
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Take a ride
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.
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Get some perspective
Is this person or situation really worth spending your emotional energy on? Risking your health over? Putting your dignity and peace of mind at risk? Answering these questions honestly can help you learn how to calm down. Now that you’ve learned how to keep your anger in check, here are some surefire ways to boost self-esteem!