Did you just blow your stack? That’s OK! Even the most calm, cool, and collected among us can lose their temper once in a while. You can’t avoid angry feelings all the time, and for those moments when you let anger get the best of you, there are ways you can cool down more quickly and minimize the damage, both to yourself and to others. Mindfulness is amazing for this—it can be deployed in any moment, offering a fresh start, a return to equanimity, and even creative solutions to problems that seemed impossible in the heat of the emotion.
It’s essential to remember, however, that the “miracle” of mindfulness comes from turning toward your experience, not away from it. And, because the experience of anger can be quite unpleasant, humor helps! If you’re a visual person, imagine donning your scuba gear and diving into the underwater world of the body, or opening the mouth of the fire-breathing dragon and putting your head inside. Or recite a silly mantra, like “c’mon anger, gimme all you got” or “I think I’ll just sit here for three minutes and self-combust.” Then, try these steps.
1. If possible, give yourself (and those around you) the gift of a time out. It could be three minutes or 10, depending on how much time you have and need. This may involve going by yourself to another room, but it doesn’t have to.
2. Begin by tracking the physical “inner geography” of the emotion. Where in your body do you feel it? Explore the sensations of anger. You may be tempted to try to push them away. Instead, investigate how they feel in the body, noticing gross and subtle fluctuations throughout the field of physical sensation. Do they increase or decrease in intensity? Do they shift? If so, can you track their movement?
3. Now, see if you can silently name what you are experiencing. Start with the gross category of “anger,” and then see if you can refine your awareness enough to zero in on what flavor and intensity of anger you’re feeling. Is it irritation, frustration, annoyance, infuriation, rage, or even fury? Finding the right label is like hitting a tennis ball on the sweet spot of the racket—“ping!”
4. Try to bring compassion to the anger. This feeling is normal, part of being human; we all experience it at times. See if you can cradle your own anger like a mother cradling her newborn child. What happens as you hold it in this way, with tenderness and care?
5. Forgive yourself. The more readily you can forgive, the more quickly you can return to balance and take the next sane step. Remember—getting angry isn’t a crime! Criticizing yourself and keeping yourself on the hook will only entangle you in a cycle of shame and self-preoccupation. Self-forgiveness is the secret rocket booster to emotional balance.