How To Not Swear At The Small Stuff: 4 Steps To Anger Mindfulness

“DAMN IT!!!!” It felt good to let the scream rip, but she instantly regretted it. All she did was stub her toe a little, but she immediately felt so angry a red haze descended in front of her eyes. Her husband pointed out afterward that the toe-stubbing incident was the fourth mildly-irritating thing to happen to her in ten minutes, and that he had cautiously watched her getting more and more annoyed until she exploded.

Does this happen to you? Do you get frustrated, angry, irritated or annoyed at seemingly inconsequential issues? Does it feel like anger or annoyance “just happen” to you? Do you judge yourself when you do get angry and then feel even worse?

In this article, I discuss why anger is not “bad,” and share how to recognize, feel, express and use anger energy.

Anger Is Not “Bad”

We learn from early on to judge anger as “bad.” It causes strife, negative feelings in ourselves and other people, and is frowned upon by society, especially when expressed by women. We judge ourselves and others who become angry, and learn to avoid expressing anger at all costs to “keep the peace.”

However, most social change directly stems from an angry person or group. If it weren’t for folks willing to express anger, women would not have access to birth control, be able to vote, or even work outside the home, let alone be nurse practitioners. We would still have slavery and legally condoned discrimination in the workplace, but would not celebrate the lives of César Chávez or Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Anger is healthy when you are being treated unjustly and you use that anger to help change the situation. Anger is unhealthy when you become out of control and use it to harm yourself and people around you. Anger is not good or bad; it is just energy. It is how you use that energy that causes healing or harm.

Step 1) Recognizing Anger – Mind The Gap

When you recognize anger you can short-circuit the “it just happened” feeling and instead choose to respond mindfully. There is always a gap between trigger and reaction, however small. Pay attention to that gap.

Become aware of the physical component of anger. You may feel tightness in your face, abdomen or shoulders. You may sweat, your skin may tingle or your breathing may become faster and shallower. You may clench your jaw or your fists or shift your posture toward or away from the object of your anger.

Because we spend our lives avoiding it, anger may skillfully hide itself as other emotions such as irritability, numbness, sadness, hopelessness, apathy or fear. Recognize that you may be angry even if you are feeling some other emotion.

Step 2) Feeling Anger

Give yourself permission to feel anger. It is healthy to experience your emotions. Breathe into the physical sensation of the anger. Do you feel it in a specific part of your body? Breathe in calm cool soft energy, and breathe out angry red energy.

Feeling anger mindfully can be overwhelming at first. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself and the anger. If you can’t, think of someone else you feel tenderness and heartful compassion for, such as a frail patient, a small child or a loved one. Stay with the anger sensation as much as you can. Working through it instead of avoiding it can lead to new dimensions of personal growth, calm and self-care.

When allowing yourself to feel anger, be careful to avoid the traps of cognitive distortions that we humans love to indulge in when we are feeling upset. Avoid absolutes like “always” and “never,”catastrophizing, “shoulding,” and making everything about you. Focus on the sensations of the anger, not on what caused it.

Step 3) Expressing Anger

Anger is designed to spur you to action. Right the wrong, stop the painful thing, protect those in need. You must DO something with the energy created or it will come out when you least want it to. Like a water-filled pot on a hot stove, you have to let the steam escape, or you create the potential for an explosion.

Anger creates physical energy via the sympathetic nervous system, so physical activity is ideal for burning off the energy. You can also channel the energy into other physical activities such as cleaning or walking, or non-physical activities such as work, especially if the activity is absorbing and/or relates to the anger source. The goal is to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the energy and doing something hurtful to yourself, your loved ones or your patients.

Step 4) Using Anger

Using anger effectively represents the final step in anger mindfulness. You can either do something to rectify the unjust situation you are angry about, or you can speak your truth about the injustice, even if you can’t change the situation.

Anger motivates us to do things beyond our comfort zone. For example, say a coworker has been mistreating you for months, but you didn’t say anything because you didn’t want to “rock the boat.”

Using that anger-induced energy to march into your boss’ office and calmly explain the hurtful situation and how it is affecting you and your work performance represents using anger effectively. Taking such direct action greatly increases your chances of getting what you need. Even if the situation doesn’t change, you will feel better because you got to speak your truth.

Give these four steps to anger mindfulness a try over the next 7 days. How did you do? Did it help you feel a little more in control during episodes of anger? Let me know in the comments below!