When anger strikes, breathe

Breathing is the quickest way to regain your self-control and help slow down your heart rate (rawpixel pic).

Everyone gets angry. It’s a normal human emotion but as Vietnamese poet and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh eloquently says, “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If in our heart, you still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions, you cannot be free.”

Holding on to anger is like boarding a flight with excess baggage. You are paying for all this extra weight and bringing it with you to the next destination.

Like all travellers, you cannot blame anyone else for what’s in your bag. This is your luggage and you are completely responsible for what you bring on board.

Emotions are very much the same. When you pack anger on a trip, you travel with all that negative baggage it comes with.

Despite the fact you might be going on a holiday, the mind is not free because anger is like carrying a burden that weighs you down. Buddha once wisely said, “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”

Though anger is a normal human emotion, people in a rage can become a danger to themselves and those around them when they lose all sense of control or a rational perspective of their situation.

Anger drains you and is bad for the health

It’s also very draining to argue with someone or be on the receiving end of their anger. You might often feel incapable of doing any productive work at all after fighting with someone.

It also takes a toll on your mental health because there’s an underlying feeling of anxiety. You feel somewhat unable to fully relax when you are with someone with such a volatile temperament.

In a workspace, it may make employees and a team of people feel like they’re on edge, like they’re walking on eggshells, which is not a positive environment to be working in, if one has a volatile boss.

Anger does not just affect us mentally. It triggers off physiological and chemical changes in our bodies, causing stress on the heart, your nervous system and your breathing.

For instance, your blood flow can increase by up to 300% and your heart begins thumping to an audible beat in your chest.

When you take a closer look at what’s really happening to you when you fly into a rage, it might make you think twice about throwing your temper on a regular basis, or allowing someone to throw theirs, when they really anger you.

Counting to 10 really does help prevent you from blowing your top. (rawpixel pic)

Many grow up being told to count to 10 if you are about to lose your temper. As simple and straightforward as this advice is, Ronald Potter-Efron, PhD, an anger-management specialist has pointed out that research has shown how the neurological anger response lasts less than two seconds.

Hence, counting to ten or performing an on-the-spot breathing exercise can actually avert potential disaster. It’s not a bad idea. Like any storm; if you wait it out, it can pass.

However, breathing is the quickest way to try to regain control of yourself and to help slow down your heart rate and clear out the tide of angry thoughts. Try this simple exercise if anger strikes you.

  • Take a deep breath and hold it for three counts.
  • Exhale slowly for six counts.
  • Observe the breath as it passes out of your nostrils.
  • Listen to the sound of the prolonged exhale as this sends a message from the brain to the body to slow down and become calmer.
  • Literally imagine the tension draining out of you on every exhale.
  • Be aware of any tension in your chest.
  • As you exhale, imagine all that anger loosening up and leaving you with every out-breath.
  • Imagine the tension being released, as your breathing rhythm starts to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Do this several times until you feel much lighter so that you keep releasing more anger with every exhale.

Another thing worth trying is to never make any rash decisions when you’re in this state. Try to sleep on the issue that’s bothering you because things may not look or feel the same way by the next morning. They might lose their level of intensity.

Undoubtedly, change doesn’t happen overnight but taking small steps or immediately doing a breathing exercise once anger arises can already bring about a more positive, relaxed frame of mind.

Jojo Struys is a regional TV host, speaker and wellness personality. She is also the founder of OhanaJo Studio, Malaysia’s largest yoga and sound healing space (www.ohanajo.com)