Anger is an energizing emotion that comes with unpleasant physical sensations. Since anger is a part of our body’s natural defense system, these physical sensations help prepare the body to take what are perceived to be life-saving actions. The physical sensations that accompany anger (increased heart rate, increased respiration, tensed muscles, tightness in the jaw, dry mouth and flushed face) serve a survival purpose. However, they also make controlling anger difficult. Learning to recognize and reduce these physical sensations is one way to improve anger management. Below are some strategies that aim to reduce the physical components of anger.
1. Practice for Deep Breathing:
Breathing slower is a skill that is easier to use in the moment to help reduce anger. All this skill requires is breathing out more slowly than you breathe in and gradually increasing your exhalation. Additionally, deliberately pushing your stomach out when you breathe in and letting your stomach fall when you breathe out is another way to reduce the rapid respiration that accompanies feelings of anger.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
This skill involves the systematic tensing and releasing of various muscle groups as a means of disconnecting the impact of anger on the body. An easy way to start practicing progressive muscle relaxation would be to make a fist (tensing the muscles in your forearm), hold tension in this muscle for 10 to 15 seconds, and then slowly release your fist noticing the difference between how the muscle felt when it was tensed as to how it feels now; being aware of the sensations of warmth and relaxation. You can then move onto other muscle groups practicing a few seconds of muscle tension followed by a release of tension.
3. Lowering Your Body Temperature
People tend to use phrases such as ‘steamed up’ ‘boiling over’ and ‘feeling flames’ when describing rage. This is due to the fact that your body does actually heat up when you are angry. Lowering your body temperature is therefore an effective strategy in managing the physical sensations of anger. Some ideas to do this include: taking a cold shower or swimming in a pool; holding ice cubes on your cheeks, wrists or back of your neck; rinsing your face in cold water; and sitting in any cool environment.
4. Releasing Energy Associated with Anger
It’s hard for intense anger to be maintained if your body is exhausted, so anything you can do to release the energy associated with anger is going to help reduce its intensity. Doing exercises such a running, doing push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, long hikes and/or gym workouts are options. Although this depends on a person’s age or overall health, anything that increases your heart rate and works your muscles will be helpful. Doing household tasks such as vacuuming, scrubbing floors, cleaning windows, mowing the lawn and/or shoveling snow are also effective ways to expand energy.
Emotion regulation skills are topic incorporated in the DBT group provided at Specialized Therapy Associates and Fx Med Center. For further information on how you can control anger, call us at 201-488-6678.