Take a deep breath. Now deeper.
Breathe in again and fill your lungs. Be aware of the way the air fills your chest and stomach on the inhale. Hold this for a moment. Now imagine yourself, your very essence, slowly flooding outside of your body on the exhale.
You have just reached out to your parasympathetic nervous system, often called your rest and digest portion of your autonomic nervous system. Your breathing opened airways previously untouched moments before and now your brain is working with this influx of air, making your muscles and heart and mind relax.
You may have noticed the frequent breathing exercises encouraged throughout the previous sections. These exercises generally help bring about awareness because your breath is always present and available to you as a resource, no matter the situation. It is always a constant to which you can bring your mind in times of stress, urgency, or anger.
Breathing is just as good for awareness as it is for relaxation. Try deep breathing to help regulate and slow down your body when you feel especially rushed or stressed.
There are times when it may like feel breathing is not enough. That’s okay. When it feels like deep breathing is not helping, try going for a walk. As you’re walking, look at the trees or the grass around you. Sometimes just training our attention on elements of nature can be enough to get you to a place where deep breathing is an easier skill to access. Other times simply removing oneself from the tense situation is all that is needed.
Consider the following:
Bernard lost his job a few weeks ago. He has been doing yard work for a neighbor to supplement his loss of income. The neighbor has planned to pay him today but something occurred and his neighbor cannot pay him for another week. The electric bill is due tomorrow and Bernard has just informed his wife, Lydia, that he cannot contribute any money to the bill.
Lydia often communicates passive aggressively. She haughtily agrees to pay the bill in full, a feat that means borrowing money from her own parents. She begins making dinner for Bernard and herself, slamming pots and pans. Bernard feels confused at this display, due to the fact that Lydia initially seemed to understand the issue and offered to help.
He feels himself getting angry as well and clenches his fist. His chest tightens and he tries to breathe into the tension in his fist, trying to counteract his constriction. He thinks, Why would she agree to something she doesn’t want to do! She is so bull-headed!
And then his thoughts turn more inward, I’m so useless, I can’t even get paid to rake leaves.
He recognizes the negative self-talk and tries breathing again. His body is still tight and his negative thoughts won’t budge as he watches Lydia storm about the kitchen.
He decides to take a break instead. He walks calmly into the bedroom and sits on the bed. He now has enough space from the situation to refocus his negative self-talk into more positive, or at least neutral, thoughts. He resolves to approach Lydia after dinner, when neither are hungry, and make plans to reformat their budget to accommodate his loss of work.
In any situation we have the option to try to shift four things in order to break out of our habitual patterns of reaction. We can shift our mind, our body, our emotions, and/or the environment. Sometimes making a shift in one of these is enough and other times we need to do more. In the above example Bernard first tries to shift his body by using the breath to relax his body, to decrease the overall tension. At times just doing this can work to shift our mental focus, focusing on the breath, which then shifts our mind (or our thoughts,) as well. This change in thoughts can shift our emotions and change the way we see our environment and thus positively affect our emotions.
This did not work that way for Bernard. He needed to change more, do more in the moment to make this shift. Physically removing himself from the trigger of his wife slamming things around in the kitchen provided the shift he needed to use the breath to shift the body and the mind, which eventually shifted his emotional response a bit.
You may find that each one of these four can work as a starting point for change, for managing your reactions, shifting them to planned actions instead. Sometimes you may have to try all four before you find the one that works the best for that moment in time. So if deep breaths don’t work, try a change in scenery. If you can’t leave the room, try finding 10 new things that you never noticed in the room as a way to shift your thinking, or your mind. You could put on some upbeat music to help shift your emotion, or you could play something relaxing. The more you practice this the more avenues for shifting your experience will become visible and the easier it will become.
You can utilize space during a conflict but it is helpful to practice these skills during not so stressful times as well. When you delegate a time to refocus on positive self-talk or affirmations, you are allowing yourself space to defuse any potential anger that may occur in the near future. You are also working to retrain the brain, making these skills your new habit.
You have now read information regarding new ways of thinking, communicating, and even breathing related to managing your anger. Hopefully you have already begun reducing the frequency and intensity of your anger, morphing unhealthy learned expressions of anger into newly learned healthy expressions.
But what about the times you want to smash a plate into a wall? What about the times when you only see red?
While it is true that acting out aggressively can provide relief from anger, it usually comes with negative consequences and rarely completely gets rid of your anger. It is a reactionary response that does not usually solve a conflict long term. Lashing out violently can damage relationships, trust, and even your sense of self, as it may lead you to feelings of shame, guilt, or even fear related to your own loss of control.
Instead of going through that cycle, try to plan in advance a time to release aggression before it arises. The rush released from physical aggression, such as yelling or throwing or kicking, can be released from other physically demanding activities, such as running, biking or swimming.
Self-Control, Keep It Simple!
Remember the previous section about self-control? It takes practice to remain level headed in a hot situation. Know that you are capable of controlling yourself and your reactions to emotions.
In times of mild annoyance, see if you can trace back the annoyance to find your trigger(s), notice your thinking, and then see if you can take a step back. Try to view the situation from a new perspective. Try to see the situation as simply as you can, break down the details to simple facts, taking it to a rational place. Now notice how you reacted to these facts. Are you shocked that something happened? Are you afraid? Are you threatened by something?
Practice doing this in day to day situations that have very little emotional charge. This will make it is easier to do in times of severe outrage.
If violence still feels like it is ready to come bubbling up to the surface, give yourself a break. Instead of going to another room, as you read in section 18, take a power walk. Redirect your need for physical release someplace else, do something that allows you to feel the release of that building energy. This release can free up your mind, allowing yourself the room to resolve the issue while planning to do something different next time this sort of thing occurs.
Imagine your future self as a good friend. Treat yourself with the gift of relaxation. Take a walk somewhere with outstanding views. Relish a cold glass of chocolate milk. Sink into a hot tub or take a nice hot shower.
Practice deep breathing, as explained above. Be aware of your body while you are breathing. Be full of breath and allow your muscles to relax.
Continue to track anger, conflict, and times of negative self-talk. Continue practicing assertive communication. Assertively communicate that you want space to relax, for instance. Write down your findings.