Anger – “don’t repress it. But don’t act on it either.”
-Chogyam Rinpoche

This can be applied to many, many habits, emotions, feelings, etc. I want to take a break from the Aspects of Well-being series to address a topic that I feel needs more attention in our charged cultural climate – Anger.

*ed. note – what follows is a closer look at how these posts are formed in my brain. In other words, it’s a bit rambling, please stay with me until the end, I promise to pull it all together. Thanks

Anger is an emotion born in the same brain region as the fight-or-flight response, one of the most ancient pre-historic parts of the brain. This means, among other things, that anger is often triggered by feelings of being under attack.

The brain can decide between fight and flight (there’s a third option that affects a tiny portion of the human race, I call it the Pass The F*CK out option, I’m going to leave that for the experts to explain) by choosing to lash out at the perceived danger, or to flee from it:

– physical danger
– psychological danger
– being challenged on a strongly held belief
– symbolic threat to self-esteem or dignity

Something to keep in mind here is that venting anger has been shown to be an ineffective method of releasing these feelings. Once the limbic brain is ‘pumped up’ by becoming angry, you need a cooling down period rather than to remain pumped by venting and letting your anger manifest itself outwardly.

Let’s break this down. Anger is an emotion. Emotions are – on one fundamental level – choices. We make a choice about how to display a deeper feeling, or about how we allow a situation to affect us.

Since anger is a choice, you can choose NOT to get angry. Or rather, you can choose how to let your anger manifest.

Here’s where mindfulness comes in. By staying mindful of your rising anger, you can watch it come. You can invite it into your day, watch how it interacts with your other emotions and feelings, then you can CHOOSE what to do with it.

– You can let it take the controls and steer you into conflict
– You can let it hang out for a while and see where it wants to take things
– Or, you can show it the back door

Something I’ve found incredibly useful recently is to look at the cause of the anger, then turn it upside down by finding something to be grateful for in the same situation.

For example – say you find yourself at loggerheads with a coworker. You’ve been working on this project for weeks and it feels like all you do is argue about the projections. As you feel that anger rising, take a few deep breaths and watch the path the anger is taking. When you can see where it’s stemming from, see what else is there.

Say the anger is coming from what you see as your coworker’s stubbornness and insistence on using figures they came up with rather than yours. Be grateful this coworker did the legwork to run the numbers, then look at those numbers closely – maybe it turns out they make more sense than yours.

Now you can see your way out from under the anger by acknowledging the work your coworker did, offer to use their figures, and move the project along in a new direction.

See how this approach can alter your day, week, or heck, your outlook on life in general? Seeing anger as the choice it is lets you choose how much of your life to let it take over.


**Update: The wonderful folks over at Mindful just published this guide to diffusing anger. They did such a good job that I’m going to have to figure out something else for next week!