by Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT, LCDC-Intern
In part one of this blog, Anger Is A Misunderstood Emotion: New Ways to Think About, I discussed why we experience anger and what goes on in our body and brain when we feel angry. If you haven’t read it yet, it provides helpful background information for this blog post. I invite you to read it first.
Now that we understand more about anger, why we experience this emotion, and how it is trying to help us.
We know that our prefrontal cortex (problem solving, calming part of our brain) can be affected by our amygdala (the fight, flight, or freeze part of our brain) and cause it to go offline. What are we to do? We can do things to help our body calm down and get our prefrontal cortex back online.
Taking a break and doing some deep breaths is an easy way that we always have with us.
Taking slow deep breaths where we inhale in and then exhale out at a slower rate. Some people finding inhaling on a count of 4 seconds, holding for 7 seconds, and exhaling out on a count of 8 seconds helps them to focus. It can be helpful to feel both your chest and your belly rising as you inhale. This supports your body to calm and ground itself. Here’s a video guiding you though these steps.
Here’s another version for children and the child within us. This breathing technique also helps with decreasing anxiety and can be done before bed to help with sleep.
We can help our body to calm by taking a break and doing some deep breaths. We can also engage in other activities that help to calm us such as taking a walk, a warm bath, or putting on some music. If you need some more ideas on how to calm yourself, check out this handout for ways to calm your nervous system
Next, the thoughts we think in the moment are very powerful in effecting our behavior.
Our thoughts are very powerful. Taking a break can help us to pause and reflect on what we are thinking and feeling, so we can get to the root of our anger.
Anger can get triggered for different reasons which can be put into three categories-
- Anger appears when your expectations are not fulfilled;
- Anger occurs when you see some things as a threat;
- Anger appears as an attempt to hide other emotions.
What need do we have that is not being met?
Is it a promise that was broken or feeling unsafe in a situation? Or are we feeling hurt or sad underneath the anger? Think of the anger as similar to the warning light on the dashboard of a car -- it’s giving you useful information about what the engine needs. You wouldn’t want to hide or disconnect or ignore it. You’d want to slow down the car and figure out what the light’s trying to tell you.
Do I feel I have the power to address this need? If so, what actions do I need to do to meet this need?
Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent (Compassionate) Communication developed a four step model of communication in which we empathetically listen and honestly express through observations, feelings, needs, and requests. To learn more about this model: https://www.cnvc.org/learn-nvc/what-is-nvc.
You can also get a list of needs that we all have as humans to help you in figuring out which needs you need to support.
If I don’t feel I have the power to meet this need, is there even one small thing I can do to help support myself?
If we feel stuck, it can be helpful to reach out for support whether from a trusted friend or supportive mental health counselor. We are hear to help support you in learning a new way to be with your anger, so you don’t have to bottle it up or explode. Anger can be a thought of as a wake up call to help you understand what you need and what you value.
Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist at Relationships Matter Austin in Austin, Texas. Carlene works with individuals, couples, and families. She can help you gain more understanding and tools to manage your anger and develop a new relationship with it. To schedule your appointment with Carlene, you can reach her at (512) 994-0432 or request an appointment with her on the Relationships Matter Austin Scheduling Page.