I have noticed lately that we are living in an angry world. No matter what the topic is, there are people angry about it. They are angry about what other people are doing, what other people are not doing, what they don’t have, the reasons they don’t have it, and the list goes on.
The anger around us is wearing me out. Everyone seems to be on edge, and there are understandable reasons why. Nonetheless, constantly existing in a state of hostility is not improving the quality of life, either for us individually or as a collective society.
First of all, I want to clarify that anger itself is not a purely negative emotion. We would never want to get rid of the ability to get angry because our brain lets us know when we are being treated badly, or that something is unjust and we need to speak up. Being angry can feel empowering, and it can give us the courage to keep fighting for our rights.
So, anger is necessary in some circumstances, but it can become toxic and it can infiltrate our ability to function optimally in everyday life. It can harm our relationships with others and the way that we interact with the world. Prolonged anger often clouds our judgment and hinders our ability to use logic and critical thinking.
Therefore, it’s important to consider when to let go of anger and to use healthy coping skills to reset our brain and restore it to a more peaceful state. The question that we want to ask ourselves is whether the anger is helping us to accomplish a goal, or is anger interfering with our ability to lead positive and productive lives?
Thinking about whether the root of our anger is based on something that we have control over is also necessary. For instance, if we are angry with other people’s behavior, and we have no control over what they do, it may be best to focus on what we can control. If the behavior or choices of others is affecting us to the point where we are lashing out at others around us, we need to think about shifting our focus. Staying angry at individuals or groups of people distracts us from focusing on what we can have some influence over within our world.
5 ways to let go of anger
Here are some strategies to help us reset and restore:
- Breathe. It sounds too simple to be effective, but it’s the first step to flipping the switch in our brain from an angry state to a peaceful and restorative state of mind. Take some slow, deep breaths and notice tension leaving your body.
- Identify the triggers for your anger. Sometimes, writing down the reasons that you were angry can be helpful because you see on paper what you have control over and what you don’t. If the actions, beliefs, or decisions of others are primarily what you are angry about and you can’t do anything about it, it’s a good time to rethink whether it’s worth the energy to remain in an angry state. If there are some triggers that you can problem-solve, focus on those. It may mean having conversations with people to resolve differences and get feelings expressed, or it could mean taking some action to remove yourself from the situations or relationships that cause you constant pain and frustration. If there are places where you can make no difference, make a conscious decision to focus less energy on thinking about them.
- Notice what you care about. Your family, your friends, your pets, and your home. Are there things that you’ve been neglecting recently because you’ve been focused on what’s making you angry? If so, make a commitment to prioritize things that give you positive energy, contentment, and joy.
- Prepare to be triggered. Even if we commit to letting go of things that make us angry over which we have no control, once we are out in the world, we will get triggered again. Whether it’s the next day when we go to the office and see that person who gets on our nerves, or we listen to the news and become instantly infuriated, we need to be ready to face the triggers and conquer them before they get the best of us. Thinking of calming visual images, musical lyrics, or things that we are looking forward to can help focus our attention on what matters and what makes us feel good. This is a quick, in-the-moment strategy that we can employ when we don’t have time to critically analyze the situation.
- This can be a tough one, but try to have empathy for others who you do not understand. Put yourself in their shoes, and imagine what they might be going through. It may not bring you to a deeper understanding of the reasons they think and act as they do — practicing empathy does not mean that we agree with others or forgive them — but it can help us to tolerate behavior over which we have no control, meaning that we can go on with our own lives.
Be the example of what you believe. If the behavior and decisions of others frustrate you, live your life the way that you think others should. You will feel much more empowered, and much more resilient for your effort.