If taking a few deep breaths simply isn’t cutting it (you know, when you’re super ticked off), you can still use the power of your lungs to your benefit. Atmakuri recommends exhaling forcefully (think a dragon breathing fire), sighing loudly, exercising in a way that gets your heart rate up, or just crying it out to expel the negativity.
6. Consciously think about anything else.
Once you reflect on your anger and start to process or release it, you might realize you’re upset about something that’s actually pretty trivial—say, your partner is running a few minutes late. In this scenario, Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and the author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety, turns to something she calls the “mental shortlist” technique.
The practice involves focusing on other thoughts whenever you’re tempted to stew about something that’s truly insignificant—a “nothing burger,” if you will. So, in the case of your slightly tardy partner, your “mental shortlist” might include things like catching up on reading, sorting through pictures on your phone, listening to that podcast you’ve been meaning to catch up on, or anything else that will force you to redirect your thoughts intentionally. Or if you want to give things a positive spin, it could involve “brainstorming gift ideas for your [partner] or conversation topics you’re excited to discuss when they arrive,” Dr. Carmichael says.
If you find yourself constantly irritated over “nothing burgers,” though, that’s worth paying attention to. “You may want to do a deeper dive to see if there’s something bigger that’s bothering you and resulting in irritability,” Dr. Carmichael notes.
7. Physically adjust your body to temper your emotions.
Therapists are no strangers to the mind-body connection, a concept that often comes up in their personal approaches to frustration. For example, when she’s swirling in her angry thoughts, Wang adjusts her facial expressions and hand positionings. Specifically, she turns to a dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) technique called “Willing Hands and Half-Smiling.”
For “willing hands,” she places her arms alongside her body, keeping them straight or bent slightly at the elbows. She then turns her hands outward, unclenched, with her fingers relaxed and palms facing upward. To practice “half-smiling,” she tries to relax her face, letting go of her facial muscles and tilting the corners of her lips upward, adopting a serene facial expression. “It’s very difficult to stay angry with ‘Willing Hands and Half-Smiling.’ I can feel the tension and energy lift off me when I practice these skills,” Wang says.
8. Give your body the attention it deserves.
“Emotions live in our bodies,” Wang stresses. “So, when I feel irritated, my initial thoughts are: Have I eaten? Am I hydrated? Do I need to take a nap? Most of the time, I feel better when my physical body is taken care of.” When you nurture your body, you’ll also nurture your mind and give it the support it needs to cope with the stress of anger.
To better learn about her own body’s needs, Rachel Weller, PsyD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, turns to a mindfulness skill called body scanning. It involves relaxing in a comfortable position while noticing external sensations (like sounds and odors) and observing your breath. Then, starting from the top of your head, mentally scan your body—section by section—while acknowledging how each part is feeling. Are your eyes heavy? Is your neck tense and achy? Is your stomach rumbling?
As Dr. Weller explains: “Tuning into our physical sensations, like muscular tension, breath, pressure, and tingling, often allows us to increase the connection between our brains and bodies.” This, ultimately, can help you uncover the deeper meanings behind fiery emotions—anger and everything in between, she says. After all, she says, “Our bodies often hold facts that our mind is unable to discover.”