Everyone gets angry… But mindfulness can help.
This week, I want to introduce you to a client of mine—in my book, Shut Up and Sit: Finding Silence and All the Life-Changing Magic that Comes with It, we call him Thomas—and before meeting with me, Thomas knew a thing or two about anger.
Before beginning mindfulness training, Thomas felt trapped in a constant state of mental chaos. He described his life as a horse race where the starting bell had rung, the gates opened, and the horses take off around a track—except Thomas. Thomas was the jockey whose gate was stuck. He was primed to move, but he couldn’t.
As the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Thomas constantly juggled a competing list of demands, whether looking for the next opportunity, growing his business, or dealing with employees. He was frustrated by his desire to grow, but his sense that the people he’d employed and collaborated with to support him were only holding him back. When something didn’t go the way he’d hoped or planned, he got angry. Really angry.
Our first training sessions together were about awareness. Together, Thomas and I talked about how he interacted with other people and how his energy impacted others. When faced with an issue in his company, he responded with anger and aggression—so much so that in one instance, his c-suite team stopped responding to his messages altogether.
Through mindfulness, Thomas realized NOBODY would want to respond to an angry person if they could avoid it. He began to explore how he could show up differently the next time a challenge arose, to get a different response from his team. The next time they had a problem that needed to be addressed, instead of saying, Why aren’t you taking care of this? Thomas simply said: I see this is happening. What can you tell me about this? By simple tweaks to his communication style, Thomas invited his employees into a conversation instead of forcing them to respond to an attack.
He learned that how he showed up determined the outcomes of any given situation—because as a leader, how he showed up significantly impacted the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of those around him. By not showing up as his best self, he wasn’t inviting anyone else to show up as their best selves either. As a self-described “Type A personality,” Thomas had a tendency to launch directly into action the moment a problem arose. Mindfulness showed him a different path—that slowing down enabled him to take more considerate, intentional actions.
He also learned to see what those around him could do better than he could, delegate, and ultimately take better care of himself. He went from leading meetings from the back corner of the conference room to sitting at the head of the table. He started showing up as the best version of himself—someone who didn’t respond to every stimulus with anger.
The health impacts of anger are far-reaching and can often be disastrous. Anger causes high levels of stress that strain your physical health over time. But for as many people who report experiencing high levels of anger, most of us don’t know nearly enough about it. Check out the data below:
- More than one in ten people say that they have trouble controlling their anger.
- More than one in four people say that they worry about how angry they sometimes feel.
- One in five people say they have ended a relationship or friendship with someone because of their behavior when angry.
- 64 percent of people either strongly agree or agree that people, in general, are getting angrier.
- Fewer than one in seven of those people who say they have trouble controlling their anger have sought help for their anger problems.
- 58 percent of people wouldn’t know where to seek help if they needed help with an anger problem.
Here’s the thing: everyone gets angry sometimes. While you may not be able to avoid anger all the time, you can use mindfulness techniques to better understand your anger triggers and symptoms and how to express your anger in healthy ways. The next time you find yourself overcome with anger, try to pause and ask yourself some of the questions below.
Step 1: Check in with your body.
- Do you have any physical pain as a result of your anger? If so, what hurts?
- Take a moment to look at your reflection. Do you notice any differences in your face? Are your eyes dilated, and is your face red?
- Pay attention to your muscles. Are they tense? Are you clenching your fists? Are your shoulders down and relaxed or raised and stiff? Can you take time to perform a mental body scan, noting every area in your body where you’re holding tension?
- Tune into your breathing and your heartbeat. Are you having a hard time catching your breath? Is your heart beating faster than usual?
- How’s your adrenaline? Do you feel a sudden burst of energy?
- Are you having gastrointestinal problems?
Step 2: Check in with your mind.
- What has caused you to be angry?
- What are some of the feelings and thoughts you are having because of the situation?
- Why does the situation make you angry? Could there be any other reasons besides the obvious? Think about your relationship and past experiences with the person.
- What are some ways you can make this situation better and avoid this in the future?
Step 3: Understanding your triggers.
- What triggered your anger in this particular situation?
- Do you have any idea why this might be a trigger for you?
- How do you feel about your triggers?
Being able to spot triggers—recognizing why certain situations trigger you and how they make you think and feel—will help you realize when you should implement your anger management techniques. During times of high stress, when you start to become angry, you can begin to manage your discomfort by taking a pause to assess your situation.
Practice mindfulness around your anger often enough, and you’ll be amazed at how your relationship to anger changes. You might even wind up like Thomas—living your life from the head of the table instead of the corner of the room.
Want to learn more? There’s a book for that! Click here to take the first step towards greater awakening, awareness, self-love, and personal transformation.
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