Why Anger Is So Destructive — and 4 Surefire Ways to Find Calm
By: Julie Hand
Take it from Sean Stephenson — anger packs a mean punch. Stephenson, a therapist, self-help author, and motivational speaker born with osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bone disease, has worked through his fair share of anger at the world for his condition. When Stephenson was born, the doctors told his parents he wouldn’t live longer than 24 hours. Now at age 39 — and over 200 bone fractures later — he brings awareness to the seriousness of brittle bone disease and how he manages it on a daily basis.
In a recent Bulletproof Radio (iTunes) podcast episode, Stephenson shared what it was like to have this disease as a kid. “If I was playing a video game and…getting stressed out, I could fracture my own arm in anger. Just by being tense and angry, [my] muscles would tense and clench and [eventually] break [my] bones. So, at some point in my mind, I [thought] peace might be a safer way out.”
Though Stephenson’s condition makes him an extreme example, unmanaged anger can still wreak havoc on your body and happiness. Read more about the science behind anger, the benefits of anger management, and techniques to keep your anger at bay.
What is anger, really?
Anger is a normal and healthy emotion that every human being on the planet feels from time to time. However, if anger rears its ugly head all the time — spirals out of control, impacts your ability to function by impairing your judgment, or hinders your success — it’s doing you no good. Chronic, rage-filled anger can affect your relationships, health, and peace of mind. What you want to look out for is the anger that harms or sabotages yourself or others. That kind of anger you can do without.
According to Sir David R. Hawkins, MD, PhD, an internationally-recognized psychiatrist and researcher, anger is one level on a scale ranking emotional states from shame (lowest) to enlightenment (highest). Hawkins’ Map of Consciousness puts anger between desire and pride – and it’s one of the levels of falsehood (meaning it’s not in accordance with your highest self). Hawkins’ notes anger is driven by hate and you process or feel it in your body as aggression.
Anger is a high-energy emotion, so if you know how to channel it constructively, you can use it to energize your actions. You can actually become more resolved or determined by anger. However, its ugly side appears in the form of resentment that leads to hatred, grievances, and grudges.
In his book “Healing and Recovery,” Hawkins reveals that the process of experiencing anger is one of expansion. He cites the example that an angry animal (like a porcupine) swells up. Even a cat, when angry, attempts to look imposing with a swollen tail nearly twice its normal size. The biological reasoning behind this expansiveness is enemy intimidation.
And herein lies the beauty of anger. It can be channeled to pursue something greater for your life. Anger can morph into courageousness and eventually become loving and joyful; even ultimately enlightened.
What is anger management?
Anger management helps you tap into these expansive qualities of anger for good. According to Hawkins, angry outbursts are rage-filled distractions that allow you to avoid feeling deeper emotions like fear, or even shame and guilt, all of which are rooted in self-hatred.
By understanding the reasons for your anger, you can then use anger management tools to temper your response. These techniques also help you get in touch with the more primary emotions driving your anger, so that you can release them for good.
Anger management doesn’t suppress your feelings. Rather, it helps you to understand the implicit meaning behind the emotion, so that you can express it in a healthy way without losing control.
Anger warning signs and triggers
While anger is often a cover-up for deeper emotions, it still an emotion in its own right and fairly easy to spot. That said, some people have learned to suppress anger from childhood, so a refresher on how to spot anger might be helpful, since it doesn’t always manifest in the ways you’d think. Here’s what you might feel or experience physically as a result of anger:
- Knots in your stomach
- Clenched hands or jaw
- Feeling clammy or flushed
- Breathing faster
- Pacing or needing to walk around
- “Seeing red”
- Difficulty concentrating
- Pounding heart
- Tensed shoulders
Anger can also affect your thought processes. You might overgeneralize, obsess, or jump to conclusions. Blame is also a common response to anger. Regardless of the way you experience anger, it’s undoubtedly uncomfortable.
Anger management: 4 ways to cool down, fast
So how do you go from those intense, angry feelings to a healthier emotional state? In the Bulletproof Radio podcast episode, Stephenson reveals that he cycles through 16 anger-management techniques to keep his calm daily. What works for one person might not work for everyone. Practice several of the strategies below until you find the ones that work best for you.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
One extremely effective way to root out anger is with EMDR. Intense anger is commonly linked to trauma and EMDR is an exceptional trauma-tackling technique.
EMDR therapy helps your brain and nervous system respond more appropriately to specific triggers, especially ones that make you angry. As trauma can change the brain system, EMDR helps recalibrate the brain’s circuitry properly by resyncing the right and left lobes.
During a typical treatment session, you’ll follow a light from left to right on an EMDR device. By moving your eyes back and forth at specific speeds, your brain circuitry is reset. You can then go back and review the specific angry trigger with an EMDR specialist to uncover its source.
Body scan meditation
Body scan meditation is a progressive and relaxing muscle process that helps you release emotional and physical pain stored in your body, by giving conscious thought to specific regions. Because anger is often linked to pain, this technique releases tension and provides anger-related pain relief. Here’s a Spotify audio recording of a relaxing body scan meditation.
Studies reveal that yoga is an exceptional way to move anger out of your body. Kundalini, in particular, is a potent form of yoga that moves energy up your spine. It’s especially powerful at addressing stagnant energy in the back. In fact, in The MindBody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain, Dr. John Sarno suggests anger (in the form of pain) may linger specifically in the back or spine.
If you are into a yogic approach, here is a three-minute practice that deploys the powerful kundalini breath with easy movement to move negativity, frustration, and anger out of your body.
On Bulletproof Radio, Stephenson said he is certain he would have killed himself had he not found journaling. Journaling can be an effective way to speak to yourself in private about what’s bothering you. For people who don’t feel comfortable expressing anger or other emotions with others, journaling is a great go-to anger management technique. In fact, the American Psychological Association recommends journaling as a healing technique for a variety of reasons, including anger.
If you are just starting out with pen in hand, here’s an exercise to get you going:
- Consciously decide that you will allow yourself to express your anger with words.
- Give yourself ten sentences to write about everything that is distressing you.
- Write by hand – get messy if you like. Write in all CAPS if that calls to you. Whatever technique, fully allow yourself to vent onto the page, uninhibited.
- After you release your anger, you might feel inclined to sit for a moment…without writing anything at all. Feel what’s stirring inside. When you pick up the pen again, jot down observational notes about the experience. Did it help you to release your anger? If so, that’s your cue to continue with the pen.
Watch Related Video: How to Get Over Your Addiction to Pity With Sean Stephenson
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