Until now you knew about the obvious damages of anger. You know that anger can lead to hurtful words spoken and bad decisions made. But do you know that if you turn angry:
- You might clutch your chest and die
- You might grow uglier day by day
- You might forget to buy groceries on the way home
- You might not be able to scratch your itching back
- You might even need to sell all your combs
Surprised? I will explain the reasons. That must convince you why you must remain calm when angry. In the meantime, imagine this:
You are driving home after a terrible day at work. Not only are you mentally exhausted but you also are not in the right state of mind. As you approach the traffic signal, you notice it turning orange. You have enough time to pass by, but all of a sudden, out of nowhere, someone cuts you off.
You end up stranded at the signal screaming at the car which just drove off. Your blood boils and you literally feel the heat in your body. You bang the steering wheel and honk as you turn into high alert mode. You watch left and then watch right. This time you want to ensure no one cuts you again.
What just happened? Why did you react with so much fury for a simple issue?
You went through what is called the Amygdala Hijack. Due to the hijack, you fail to apply logic and instead react on impulse and emotion.
- Why do you react without thought when angry?
- How to remain calm when angry
- How anger affects your body
Why do you react without thought when angry?
To learn how to remain calm when angry, you have to understand why do you go bonkers under the influence of anger.
The human brain has gone through evolution for millions of years before reaching its current state. During the process of evolution, it has carried some parts of the brain from our ancestral mammals and reptiles.
Your brain is designed to process information, apply thought and act. Based on the same approach, you solve problems or understand what another person says.
However, the brain takes a shortcut to speed up the process when you face danger.
For example, if you spot a snake next to your feet while walking, you jump immediately. You do not spend 2 seconds thinking, “Oh, I see a snake. It might be poisonous and I will be in danger if it bites me. I need to run.” Instead, you react within the blink of an eye.
This response, called the flight or fight response helps us stay alive. You will notice animals, birds, and insects exhibit the same behavior when threatened.
The problem is, the same behavior pops up when you face a simple problem that threatens your comfort too, for example, someone cutting you off. Unfortunately, nature does not help you remain calm when angry. It goes against you.
Anger is not only harmful to relationships but also your body. Therefore, if you learn how to remain calm when angry, you boost your health too.
How to remain calm when angry
Controlling your anger takes some practice but you can tame yourself more easily than you think. You need to put in some conscious effort though.
Using the DRIPS technique you can remain calm under pressure. Each alphabet stands for one action you can take to calm your nerves. You do not have to do all 5 of these when you are angry. Experiment with each technique and choose the one which helps you the best as your go-to technique.
D – Drop your shoulders:
Have you seen an angry cat? If not, here is a picture that shows how a cat changes its posture when angry. Along with the elongated body posture, the cat also meows in a different tone. A cat owner like myself can notice the difference.
In the flight or fight mode, most mammals change their body posture in response to a threat. Human beings are no exception. When you are angry, your chest and head tilt forward. At the same time, your shoulders rise like a bodybuilder posing for Mr. Olympia.
You can break your body out of the flight or fight mode by dropping your shoulders. To make it easier, you can intentionally raise your shoulders further and then drop them.
If a quick drop of shoulders does not help you remain calm when angry, raise and drop your shoulders again.
R – Remain Silent:
In some cases, your anger prolongs but in a diluted intensity. For example, if your coworker made an unnecessary comment, you turn agitated. Not always do you punch the coworker who made the comment but your anger lingers on. Chances are, you react with an unnecessary statement yourself.
Try to remain silent. Whether you are alone or in a room full of people, remaining silent prevents nasty remarks and heated debates. Even if an awkward silence follows, hold on to silence. If you do not say a word, the person who made the comment will be taken aback. In a room full of people, death stares from the rest of the crowd should suffice to help him understand his mistake.
Whoever said silence is golden, must have considered anger too. Silence helps you prevent small arguments turning into bigger controversies. Saying nothing is better than retorting with a counter comment.
I – Interrupt quick breaths:
When your body goes into fight or flight mode, your breathing pattern changes. Your body takes in air quickly to keep you stimulated and ready. As you result, you start taking small but quick breaths. For the same reason, you end up huffing and puffing when angry.
Breaking this pattern calms you down. You need to tell yourself to stop breathing in rapid breaths. Either lower your breathing rate or take a deep breath. When you do either of them, your quick breathing pattern is interrupted and your body assumes that you are no longer in danger.
P – Pause for 5 seconds:
Whenever an incident enrages you, the chemicals in your body diffuse within 5-6 seconds. If you remain calm during those seconds, you win the battle.
Do you remember reacting on impulse and then being sorry about it moments later? It is because the chemicals diffused off and you returned to your senses.
When you first try, you may not be able to hold yourself back. With practice, you learn to calm yourself. You have to train your brain to unlearn this habit of reacting by instinct over a course of time.
Every time you go through an amygdala hijack, reflect on the situation after you have calmed down. Identify the trigger and determine a more appropriate response to use next time.
Our brain learns from patterns/repetitions. By repeating this reflection time and again, your brain stops giving an impulsive response to an undesirable situation.
S – Shrink the element of anger:
This tactic was suggested by Anthony Robbins in his book, Awaken the giant within. He suggested the tactic to overcome fear but you can apply the same when you are angry too.
When you turn angry, visualize the element. For example, if your friend was the reason behind the anger, imagine your friend shrinking in size. As he turns smaller and smaller, you will notice a weight off your chest. Visualize your friend turning so small that he turns into a speck of dust and you blow him off your hand.
The technique sounds silly but does exactly what is necessary at that moment. Try it out.
How anger affects your body
Anger changes how your body functions for the duration you are angry. The more often you get angry, the more you impact your health. Here are some of the side effects of anger. These consequences might convince you to remain calm when angry
You can have a heart attack:
When your body is tensed, a surge of cholesterol and a specific group of chemicals called catecholamines are released into your body. These chemicals stimulate the piling up of fatty acids in your arteries.
You would have heard stories of an angry person dying due to a heart attack. Now you know why. An angry person is three times more prone to a heart attack compared to a normal person.
Acne and skin problems:
Anger and stress release cortisol into your system. Cortisol increases oil secretion in your body making your skin oily. Oily skin is more prone to acne and skin diseases.
Maybe for the same reason, people say angry people look ugly. Anger can not only kill you but you might even die ugly.
Your thinking and decision making are controlled by a part of your brain called the prefrontal cortex. Anger kills some of the neurons in the prefrontal cortex which hampers your ability to use your best judgment.
Those acts of rage that you hear on the news are triggered by the death of some neurons.
Impacts short term memory
Like a computer has a RAM to store short term information and a hard disk to hold data long term, your brain has a similar storage mechanism. Your senses gather information and store it temporarily in your hippocampus.
When you fall asleep later in the night, your brain moves useful data from the hippocampus to the neocortex. You can read more about what happens to your body when you sleep to understand this better.
If you try to recall an article you read today, your hippocampus pulls the information for you. Tomorrow(assuming you go to bed tonight), the same article is served from the neocortex. Due to this movement, you will not remember the article in the same detail as you did yesterday. However, you connect the information with your other knowledge better the next day after a good 7-hour sleep.
Anger also kills off some neurons in the hippocampus and inhibits the creation of new ones. As a result, you experience short term memory loss. For the same reason, detailed plans go wrong when one person involved goes on rage mode. This happens because the person forgets the plan at that moment.
Turns off your immune system
When you are in the flight or fight mode, your body tries to expend as little energy as possible on other activities. When cortisol is in your system, your brains turn on high alert mode making survival as the primary focus. As a part of the process, it turns off your immune system to put all your energy on keeping yourself alive.
Prolonged anger and stress keep dripping cortisol in your body. Your immune system takes a hit and cannot function at its best. You are thereby more prone to diseases if you get angry or stressed daily.
Fingernails and hair stop growing
In the flight or fight mode, for the same reason of expending less energy, your body stops the growth of fingernails and hair.
No wonder stressed people turn bald sooner.
Now you know how badly anger can damage your relationships, your body, and your daily life. You might assume anger is an emotion you have no control over. Though you do not have complete control, you can change your impulsive reactions to anger and remain calm when angry.
Tame the tiger within you and you will avoid being the prey yourself.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.