10 Ways to Let Go of Anger (Without Ignoring It)
It can be tough to know exactly how to let go of anger and resentment. Though conventional wisdom might nudge you toward immediate forgiveness and release, you probably can’t turn your anger off like a faucet. But, before we get into exactly how to let go of anger, let’s get one thing straight: You’re allowed to be irritated, annoyed, and pissed off. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those feelings.
At SELF, we’re passionate about normalizing big emotions—we want you to know it’s okay to experience them. Like every other feeling, anger provides information, Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., a counseling psychologist and mindset coach, previously told SELF. So, if you have found that you’re raging about something specific (or you’re more pissed off than usual, and you don’t know why), anger might be pointing you toward something you need to acknowledge.
Anger is a reaction to a perceived threat, which means it can trigger our fight-or-flight response. When you’re angry, your body releases cortisol, adrenaline, and other hormones that can impact things like perspiration, heart rate, and blood flow, the American Psychological Association (APA) explains. Much like chronic stress, persistent anger can eventually lead to increased risks of hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, and bowel diseases. So while harnessed anger can be a powerful catalyst for action (think: activism), when anger controls you, it can harm your health. So it’s most helpful to try to embrace anger, learn from it, and then, well, set it free. Easier said than done? Sure. But that’s why we asked experts for advice on how exactly to do this.
Finding a balance between embracing and releasing anger requires that you “develop an intimate relationship” with it, Mitch Abrams, Psy.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Rutgers University and author of Anger Management in Sport, previously told SELF. Below, you’ll find a list of eight things you can do to face your anger and work toward releasing it. There’s no one trick to getting rid of your feelings immediately, but you can metabolize them in healthy ways (or healthier, at least).
1. Be honest: You’re pissed off.
Along with rushing toward forgiveness, you might feel compelled to bury your anger. This tendency can stem from cultural messages that anger is wrong (especially for women and other marginalized people), or it might come from your personal beliefs and experiences. No matter the reason, ignoring your anger (or any other emotion) isn’t the best idea. We’re not suggesting you start a fight, but it is okay to be pissed off.
Still, admitting that you’re angry can be difficult. For instance, if you’re someone who rushes to forgive (or tries to see life from every angle), imagine how you might react to a friend who is upset. The compassion and understanding that you’d share with them might be exactly what you need to give yourself. If you’re someone who buries your emotions, take a moment to admit that you’re angry out loud. Try not to rationalize it away or pretend it doesn’t exist. Simply say the words out loud and realize that the world is still standing. It’s okay to be pissed off.
2. Write down why you’re angry.
Once you’ve realized you’re angry, write your thoughts and emotions out. Not only is it great to just vent on paper for a while, as SELF previously reported, expressing your feelings helps you regulate them. When you’re angry, logic and reason tend to suffer, according to the APA. So writing down your thoughts allows you to explore how much of your anger is rooted in reality. You can start by answering the following question: Why am I angry right now?
3. Look at the situation like you’re a fly on the wall.
Journaling about your experience is helpful, but it can encourage you to ruminate a little. So if you start to feel worse about your experience, it might be helpful to practice self-distancing, which involves imagining yourself as an impartial observer in your experience. A 2021 study published in Frontiers in Psychology examined whether self-distancing could reduce negative self-talk and aggressive behavior in college athletes. Although the study only included 40 athletes, the research (which builds on older studies) did find that shifting point-of-view or adopting a third-person perspective can help reduce aggressive behavior, negative self-talk, and (to a lesser degree) anger. To do this, you can visualize yourself as a “fly on the wall” and watch the events that are bothering you play out in a more impersonal way. You might also shift from using first-person pronouns to third-person. So instead of saying, “I’m so angry because…” you might say, “She’s so angry because…” It might sound weird, but it really might be helpful if exploring things from a personal perspective is making you angrier.
4. Now, try to pinpoint your triggers.
When you decide to examine your rage, random memories, thoughts, and emotions can arise. Some of those thoughts might include name-calling and colorful language (no judgment). But there’s probably valuable information lurking underneath the surface too.
Anger can arise when you lose your patience, feel like you’re being ignored, disrespected, or overlooked, the Mayo Clinic explains. It can also happen when you’re dealing with a situation that feels similar to a traumatic incident you’ve experienced before, the Mayo Clinic adds. Seeing all of your feelings on paper (or on a screen) can help you figure out both what happened and how you’re interpreting the situation. This can help you avoid those triggers in the future, the APA says. And, if you’re angry at someone in particular, knowing what triggered you can help you communicate about what went down (more on that later).
5. Take a few deep breaths.
Anger can feel cerebral, especially when you’re clear on precisely what pushed you over the edge. But it isn’t just happening in your mind—there is also a physiological response. This is good news: It means that you can do things that will activate your parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” response), which can help you temper your temper a little (get it?). There are lots of breathing techniques that might help, but you can start by putting one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach as you slowly breathe in and out through your nose.
6. Get physical.
If breathing exercises don’t seem appealing, doing something physical is another way to activate your rest-and-digest system. This can involve a rage run, going all out on that quarantine rower you bought, or a brisk stroll around your neighborhood, or you can try mowing your lawn and scrubbing your baseboards until they’re spotless. The idea is to take your mind off of your thoughts and help you metabolize some of the chemicals that were released when you got angry.
7. Be mindful about venting.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with talking to someone about your anger, but research is pretty mixed about whether venting actually helps reduce anger. In fact, in a 2016 study published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, researchers asked 112 professionals to keep daily diaries of their experiences at work. The researchers found that the more people complained, the worse they felt. That doesn’t mean you should keep all of your feelings bottled up. You just have to be very intentional about how you choose to chat. In fact, there’s other research to suggest that a significant difference between healthy and unhealthy venting is, well, the listener. A 2015 study published in the Western Journal of Communication looked at how active listening (paraphrasing what the speaker said, asking follow-up questions, etc.) impacted undergraduate students who were venting, and researchers found that those who spoke to active listeners did feel a little better (though it didn’t do much for problem-solving). So the takeaway here is that you can vent, but be mindful about whether it’s making you feel better or worse.
8. Seek a healthy distraction.
Sometimes regulating your emotions involves finding healthy distractions, but this is different from burying your feelings and pretending they don’t exist. If you’re angry and need to calm down before you can really process, it’s okay to rely on the basics like snuggling with your pet, laughing with a friend, or watching a little guilty-pleasure TV. How do you know whether you’re avoiding or simply taking a break? “The key difference between numbing your emotions and a helpful distraction is what you feel like afterward,” Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover the Life You’ve Always Wanted, previously told SELF. If you feel a little bit better (or at least refreshed) afterward, it’s a solid indication that you’re managing anger without hiding from it.
9. If you’re angry at someone, consider talking it out when you’ve calmed down.
Sometimes we’re angry at other human beings, and processing emotions might include explaining why you’re upset. If you’ve worked through your anger and you don’t feel compelled to talk to the other person about it, that’s fine. And, if you’re raging and ready to fight, it’s best to wait until things have simmered. But if and when you feel ready, it’s acceptable to approach the person you’re upset with and explain how and why you’re angry. Remember to use “I statements” instead of accusations when trying to get your point across (we have a few other tips for healthy arguments here).
10. If the anger persists, consider chatting with a professional.
When trying to figure out whether or not you want to seek support for dealing with this emotion, the APA suggests asking yourself, Is my anger working for me? If you’re able to manage your anger and find the gems within it, you might not need professional support. If your anger impacts your well-being or relationships, it might be time to partner with a therapist to help you figure out how to move forward. Even if your anger isn’t troubling, it’s okay to chat through your concerns and seek consolation from your provider or online support groups. As we mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with getting angry (we’ve all been there), but you want to make sure that the anger isn’t stealing all of your joy.
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