Let It Go? How To Brush Off Anger And Lead A More Peaceful Life

From toddlers and their temper tantrums to impatient drivers in a traffic jam, anger is a universal emotion. According to the American Psychological Association, both internal and external factors can get us heated, such as dealing with a difficult person, remembering an upsetting event, or ruminating over a recent setback.

Anger tends to have a bad rap, but it can serve an important purpose, says GoodTherapy. When we're enraged, we're more likely to find solutions to problems, stand up for our values, and honor our needs. However, when not handled in healthy ways, the fiery emotion can become toxic. Heart disease, headaches, digestive issues, skin conditions, and aggressive behavior are all associated with chronic anger, per WebMD.

If fury and frustration are slipping into your everyday life, it's crucial to learn how to let go, without bottling up your feelings. Follow these steps to ease your anger before it erupts.

Get to know your triggers

Anger can sometimes arise seemingly out of nowhere, but often, there's an underlying trigger worth paying attention to. "Anger is our system's way of alerting us that we're feeling something that we likely don't want to be feeling," Alison Stone, a holistic psychotherapist, shared with Well+Good. Your trigger may be the betrayal of a partner showing up late or the hurt caused by a parent who criticizes your choices. Identifying what sets you off can help you find healthier ways to deal. When possible, you may choose to avoid the trigger altogether, and if you can't, a strategy like meditating beforehand or reciting a calming mantra in your head can stop your blood from boiling.

Once you've pinpointed what activates your anger, go a step further by understanding the thoughts that pop up when you're triggered. Cognitive distortions — or, put simply, faulty thinking patterns — fuel negativity, according to Psych Central. Learning to question your thoughts may tone down your temper and encourage you to see the bigger picture. Ask yourself questions like: Am I choosing to only see the negative and not the positive? Is my thought based on a fact or an assumption? Could I be taking something personally that isn't actually about me? Distancing yourself from your thoughts offers a chance to reflect before you react.

Distract yourself from anger

Your heart is racing, your muscles are tensing up, and you can't sit still — these are all warning signs of surging anger (per Mind). When you feel out of options and don't know what to do, a distraction can help you cool off, at least temporarily. Turn to your favorite calming activities, like taking a warm bath or watching a favorite sitcom. Ideally, distractions require your full attention so you can briefly detach from your anger. Additionally, healthy distractions don't harm you or anyone else. If tuning out negatively impacts your physical health (like drinking alcohol) or overall well-being (like skipping work to watch TV), it might only create more issues — and more anger — later on.

Keep in mind that there's a line separating distraction and avoidance. Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist and self-help author, told Self, "The key difference between numbing your emotions and a helpful distraction is what you feel like afterward." Your distraction should leave you feeling calmer and more prepared to face what upset you.

Take care of your body, not just your mind

Feeling on edge isn't only something that happens in your head. Sometimes, anger erupts because of physiological factors too. Healthline warns that low blood sugar, lack of sleep, physical pain, illnesses like the flu, and substance withdrawal (including caffeine withdrawal) can lead to irritability. If you've been neglecting your physical health, you might just need a snack to curb your hanger or a nap to reset after a tiring day.

Exercise can also work to lower stress and manage anger. If you notice yourself growing hot-headed, you might find relief by moving your body. Take a power walk around the neighborhood or hit up a spin class to blow off some steam.

Finally, don't overlook your breath. Anger often causes the breath to become shallow and rapid, which can leave you feeling even worse. Try focusing on your breath, inhaling slowly through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, suggests Healthline. Continue taking slow, deep breaths until you notice your anger melt away.

Practice forgiveness

When your anger is fueled by someone else, forgiveness is the antidote to a heavy, happiness-wrecking grudge. Unfortunately, forgiving someone can be easier said than done. In fact, staying angry is often our default reaction, as therapist Rachel Zar explained to MindBodyGreen: "It's a protective thing that we do, it's fight or flight, and it's human instinct to want to strike back or punish when we feel like we've been deeply wronged and hold on to that weapon we can build in future fights. But there does come a point where you can ask yourself, Is this actually serving me?"

If your anger is eating away at you, letting go of a grudge might make you feel better. Practicing forgiveness doesn't mean you have to change your relationship or how you interact with the other person. Instead, choosing to forgive just means that you've decided to stop letting anger and resentment control you. Accept the actions they took and remind yourself that you can't change their behavior or decisions.

Remember, forgiveness benefits you, not the other person — and you don't need to wait for an apology to practice it. "Forgiveness is my safety valve against the kind of toxic anger that could kill me," Robert Enright, a forgiveness researcher, shared with Vox. "Waiting for the apology is to misunderstand your free will, and it's to misunderstand the medicine that is forgiveness, that you should be able to take freely, whatever you want."

Open up about your anger

While it's not a great idea to act on your anger in the moment, suppressing it can be harmful too. Thoughtfully and intentionally expressing how you feel can help you feel better and may even bring you closer to the person who hurt you. Before unloading, make sure you've had time to cool off and reflect on what happened. Then when you're ready to start a conversation, take a calm and logical approach. "Avoid making assumptions or judgments about the other person's intentions or reasons for their behavior. Work on describing exactly what happened, and describing your reactions to it, as these are the only things that you can truly describe accurately," Dr. Angel Montfort, a licensed psychologist, told Better by Today.

If you can't — or don't feel ready to — go straight to the source, venting to a friend who's willing to listen may help. Talking about how you're feeling can make it easier to process what happened, though be careful to not get trapped in a cycle of complaining. According to a 2015 study published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, people who complain often end up feeling worse after. Briefly sound off, and then turn to other coping strategies to avoid getting stuck.

If anger continues to keep you in a chokehold, consider speaking with a mental health professional who can help you work through your emotions in healthy ways.