Let’s face it: we all sometimes find ourselves in situations where we feel like our patience is on its last thread. We blow a fuse and our anger boils over, making us want to damn-anything-to-hell that gets in our way. But losing it can really bring all sorts of problems for you, including ruining your career and damaging your relationships.
So, it’s vitally important that you learn to calm yourself down in highly charged situation before you lose it and aggravate the situation. Say, for example, someone dangerously cuts you off on the freeway. You don’t have to let sudden bursts of anger control you. There are ways to calm down and get through it with your sanity intact. Contrary to what you might think, anger is not an uncontrollable force that takes over us. It is a manageable emotion.
Here are some ways that can help you stay calm in highly charged situations, and avoid overreaction.
1. Pause and take deep breaths.
The first thing you need to do when you find yourself in a situation that ruffles your feathers is to take a deep breath. Don’t act in a rush, as you will almost certainly regret it. Just close your eyes and count to 10 to get a grip on your adrenaline rush, and then take deep breaths to calm down.
Carlos Coto, a psychologist at Pick the Brain suggests you try the 4×4 breathing technique where you breathe in for four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds and exhale the breath slowly for four seconds. Repeat this breathing technique until you feel calm enough to react.
2. Step back and ask yourself some simple questions.
Never react when you are really agitated. You are a pot of boiling water, and need to step back and ask yourself some question to assess the situation. Is the upsetting situation something you can control? Did you misunderstand the thing that’s setting you off? Does the issue really matter that much? How do I look and behave while I’m angry? Is my face red? Am I waving my hands around wildly? Would I want to work with someone like that? Probably not. Thoughtful questions help you go to the intellectual part of your brain that protects you from overreaction. Questions work wonders for most people.
3. Declare that you want to be productive and calm, and focus on that.
You cannot fully control other people’s behavior, but you can only control your own reactions. The sooner you realize that, the faster you can handle emotionally charged situations. The realization (and acceptance) that you can only truly control your own behavior and not other people’s actions can take the emotion out of the situation and allow you to proceed with a greater degree of control. Think about the things you want to do in the next hour or next few days, and declare you want to focus on those things instead of the situation that’s fueling your fire. Your thoughts will drift from anger to those things that make you more productive and joyful.
4. Label your emotional state in just a word or two.
Another trick to stay calm and overcome a rush of negative emotion is to get in touch with the emotion and label it in one word or two. Different brain studies show that labeling negative emotions reduces their impact. Trying to suppress a negative emotional doesn’t work and can backfire on you, says Kevin Ochsner a professor of psychology at Columbia University. You might look fine outwardly, Ochsner says, but inwardly your limbic system is just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused.
So, if you feel terrible, give that feeling a name. Describe that emotion. Pissed off? Frustrated? Sad? Label that negative emotion you’re feeling in just a word or two and see it diminish just like that.
5. Let go of any unhelpful thoughts you may have.
This includes thoughts of revenge and thoughts such as “It’s not fair,” or “People like that should be locked up.” Such thoughts don’t help. They only make your anger worse. Let those thoughts go and you’ll find it easier to calm down and move on. Also, avoid using words like always (for example, “You always do that), never (for example, “You never listen to me.”), and should or shouldn’t (for example, you should know better than that.) Those words aggravate the situation. Instead, focus on thinking about positive things you could be doing that make you truly productive and joyful.
6. Write down the experience in a journal.
If you’re still upset about a situation even after you’ve tried letting it go, try writing it down in a journal. Nagging thoughts have a tendency to linger and flare up into fits of anger later at the slightest provocation. Writing down your emotions has a calming effect because it brings clarity and allows you to process complex issues and come up with solutions. It also tells your brain it can stop obsessing over the issue because the issue’s now recorded in a permanent place.
7. Tell someone about it.
One of the things that makes us lose our cool and burst into anger is that we get stuck inside our own heads with our own thoughts. If you have a friend with you in a highly charged situation, tell them what you’re feeling. If you don’t have someone with you, call a friend and tell them about it. Talking to someone and letting it all off your chest can leave you feeling calmer. If, however, you are constantly feeling frustrated and angry no matter what you try, and your temper causes you problems at work or in your relationship, consider talking to a professional. A psychotherapist, for example, can look at trends in your behavior and suggest solutions.
8. Burn off some of that pent up rage with exercise.
No matter how well we try to keep a lid on it, anger bursts may still make occasional appearances. When they do, another great way to manage it and get back to being calm is to switch gears and exercise. Do pushups or situps, go for a run, or just hit the gym to blow off steam. Exercising burns off pent up rage, lifts your mood, and helps you feel healthier and happier. You can also try taking a nap if you’re terribly upset. Sleeping has a calming, rejuvenating effect on the entire body and mind.
9. Go outside and reconnect with nature.
A final trick to keep calm in highly charged situations is to just step outside and get some air and sun. Take a few minutes to walk in a natural setting with trees. Watch the birds fly in the blue sky and feel the wind blow against your hair. Reconnect with nature. Fresh air can help you calm down and remind you that we create most of the stress we feel in our minds. Studies actually show that spending time in green spaces with trees reduces stress, relieves mentally fatigue and alleviates feelings of depression. Even if you only go to a nearby park on your lunch break, do it to strengthen your bond with nature. Nature’s replenishing effect is fairly instantaneous.