A wild tiger is usually resting — motionless, and barely noticeable.
Sometimes it feels the urge to pace back and forth, as if it’s daring you to provoke it.
On occasion, it shows its claws, and bares its teeth. It may even pounce forward unexpectedly, showing off its power and strength.
Anger works in similar ways. We all have it inside of us. Some people show it frequently. Other people rarely expose it at all.
Anger cannot be entirely controlled at all times, but we can learn to manage it. We can practice healthy habits that help us comfortably coexist with it.
The challenge of managing our anger has existed since the dawn of man. Scholars and meditators have been studying it for centuries. We have a good understanding of what works.
Based on research and experience, here are 5 techniques and strategies that can help you befriend your anger and process it in a healthy way.
The first concept is really simple, but powerful, and it offers wisdom for everyone.
1. Accept Anger as a Natural Force
Just because a tiger can be fierce and scary, doesn’t mean it doesn’t add value to our lives. It’s an awesome animal to observe and an important member of the animal kingdom.
Expressing anger, in a constructive manner, also adds value to our lives. It can be a “wake-up call” for change. It can be a catalyst for mending relationships. It can literally be the reason why two people fall in love — because it’s real, raw emotion.
It provides key personal insights that should be explored. This is why it should be acknowledged and respected.
Accepting anger and its potentially valuable aspects is a good start, but it’s not enough to tame the beast. We also need to…
2. Release it in a Focused Manner
Once the tiger feels the urge, it makes a move. It doesn’t contemplate or question itself. It reacts immediately and instinctively to its surroundings and circumstances.
If it’s caged and wants to be free, but realizes it cannot escape, it might do some damage inside. Either way, it will make itself known.
Anger, like an angry tiger, is powerful energy in motion. It does not want to be trapped.
We shouldn’t fight it, ignore it or suppress it. It is part of us. If we bury it deep inside, it starts to build onto itself, and fester like an infected wound.
If you live in an environment that frequently generates anger, and you don’t have an effective way to release it and direct it, your body repeatedly absorbs the negative blow, like a boxer ready to be knocked out.
Over time, this can translate into muscle tension, compulsive behavior, or feeling like you need to have a tight grip of control on other areas of life.
If left unchecked, it can unexpectedly erupt like a volcano, causing us to act in unpredictable and previously unimaginable ways.
In order to avoid this situation, we need to find a way to release the growing tension before it builds up too high — much like a relief valve on a pressurized container.
In many cases, this means verbally expressing our feelings in a constructive manner, for a few brief moments.
Some people even create a personal ritual — like intentionally throwing their hands out in the air or downward to symbolize the act of throwing the anger out of their body.
Vigorous physical exercise works well for other people because it also can channel the intense energy, especially if the reason for the anger isn’t too serious.
The act of releasing anger introduces another challenge. We need to fight the temptation to dwell, or hold onto the anger for a long period of time. This is when it helps to…
3. Practice the 10-Minute Rule
Give yourself permission to constructively release the anger for about 10 minutes, then let it go.
After we let our inner tiger out for a short period of time, we need to figuratively (or literally) walk away from the situation that set it free.
You’re probably thinking, “How do I do this when I feel my blood pressure rising and adrenaline coursing through my veins”?
You use the power of distraction, with intent and purpose.
Instead of venting for hours with a friend, which only intensifies our feelings by replaying the moment over and over again, we need to find a cognitive activity — something that engages our minds.
This diversion shifts our attention from the emotional response to a productive task. It can stop the complaining and criticizing, which usually make us feel worse, not better.
For some people, this might mean tackling a small project at home or in the office. Others might prefer to play a game, or sport, that requires tactics and strategy. Others might prefer to draw or make some sort of art.
You need to find what works for you.
The important thing is to recognize that distraction can help us move away from the feelings of anger to a more positive place.
4. Flex Your Empathy Muscle
There are occasional moments when we are confronted with an adult behaving in an extremely rude way.
It’s easy to pass judgement based on what we see and hear. But the external details are only a small part of the story.
We have a nasty habit of filling in the blanks with assumptions that are often false, and we react quickly in a way that seems, at least to us, to “fit the crime.”
Instead of blindly reacting, it’s quite possible to pause, take a deep breath, and figuratively step back from the situation.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
— Viktor Frankl
During this brief pause of a few seconds, we can experience a rational moment of clarity.
Maybe this person hasn’t slept well for a week, or currently has a pounding headache. Perhaps they were exposed regularly to an angry or violent environment as a toddler and are still dealing with the baggage from a circumstance that was completely out of their control.
The point is that we usually don’t know why a particular person is behaving in a certain way.
However, we can choose how we react to it. We can use empathy as a tool to alter our perspective. By changing our beliefs about a situation, we can quickly change the emotion that’s tied to it.
This allows us to free ourselves from judging, criticizing, complaining, or taking it personally. We can instead tell ourselves, “This person is in a bad place at the moment”, and let it pass through us like turbulent, but rapid wind.
Obviously, there are extreme exceptions where personal safety is involved. However, in most cases, having the right attitude can help us avoid doing something we might later regret.
We can use empathy as a shield to protect us from moments that might otherwise ruin our day.
5. Search for Clues Like a Detective
After the initial feelings of anger subside, we can sit down and look for potential reasons why the tiger wants to fight so frequently.
To do this, we can simply describe the situation in a journal entry. This doesn’t need to be time-consuming. We simply want to write down and capture the general circumstances that triggered the anger.
What were you doing leading up to the moment? What happened right before you felt your heart pounding? Who was there? Were you also embarrassed, scared, or impatient at the time? What other feelings were involved?
Was your reaction an appropriate response to the trigger, or was it a bit extreme? Do you think it was caused by frustration that was building inside of you?
Once you answer a few of these simple questions, other thoughts might emerge from your past. These clues can lead you to the deeper reasons why you continue to feel this way.
Sometimes it requires the review of several journal entries before a pattern emerges, before you realize the specific conditions that tend to trigger your anger. This is when you might have the “aha!” moment of self-discovery.
Once we start to uncover the root causes of our anger, we can begin to make adjustments in our lives. We can become more aware of the situations that tend to upset us. We can aim to either avoid those situations or to approach them more mindfully. We can practice the other techniques I discussed. Small changes can lead to major breakthroughs.
I’m not suggesting that each of us can address our own issues without any help. Support from family, friends, and professionals can be vital for lasting change.
I’m simply suggesting that exercising our self-awareness muscle can go a long ways toward helping us understand and manage our anger ourselves.
Anger can feel like a wild beast. But we have the power to tame it — to happily co-exist with it.
To manage anger, we can practice the following useful techniques:
- Accept the fact that we all have anger inside of us.
- Recognize that it’s healthy and natural to let it out.
- Give yourself the freedom to release/vent the anger for about 10 minutes, then set it free like a bird.
- Use empathy as your secret weapon when confronted with other angry or rude people.
- Be your own detective and search for clues to understand the triggers and deeper roots of your anger.
Like most rewarding things in life, managing anger requires effort, patience, and persistence.
Once you’re able to befriend the tiger, tranquility can become a reality.
Recommended Reading — Anger: Wisdom For Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh
If you appreciated this post, we highly recommend Anger: Wisdom For Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh.
It was under the bodhi tree in India twenty-five centuries ago that Buddha achieved the insight that three states of mind were the source of all our unhappiness: wrong knowing, obsessive desire, and anger. All are difficult, but in one instant of anger—one of the most powerful emotions—lives can be ruined, and health and spiritual development can be destroyed. With exquisite simplicity, Buddhist monk and Vietnam refugee Thich Nhat Hanh gives tools and advice for transforming relationships, focusing energy, and rejuvenating those parts of ourselves that have been laid waste by anger. His extraordinary wisdom can transform your life and the lives of the people you love, and in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, can give each reader the power to “change everything.”