“For every moment you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m not an angel. In fact, my husband used to lovingly call me a “fierce creature.” This fiery inclination can be due to inborn temperament, but it can also be a result of post-traumatic stress or similar brain-impacting life events.
It’s taken a concerted effort, over many years, for me to become more loving, tolerant, and peaceful.
But I still lose it from time to time. Like today, for example, it must have been a triple critical day because I lost it three times in a row.
It started with an unusually frustrated phone call with a relative. Then, an empty granola bar box made me furious enough to fling it across the room.
Lastly, a well-meaning guardian at the visitors’ center of a private yoga resort challenged me. Yes, heaven forbid, I walked up the driveway, but honestly I didn’t cross the gate.
In fact, I was in my car, about to leave, when she came flying over to warn me the resort property is off limits without a guest pass. I became curt and defensive, cold anger seeping through. After all, I’ve already been on the grounds at least a million times.
Indulging in Anger Harms Your Health and Happiness
In each case, I was caught in an almost automatic response. But I quickly recognized the error of my ways. Why? Because, in addition to harming others, I know that indulging in anger harms my own health and detracts from my own happiness too.
Take a moment to tune in to yourself the next time you get angry. By doing so, you can discover anger’s harmful impact for yourself.
When I’m triggered by anger, I feel an upsurge of energy at first—almost a high—as adrenalin surges through my body. But this feisty response quickly dissolves into feeling all churned up. If I start replaying the scene in my mind, easy to do, the emotional turmoil can keep on for days.
On the other hand, genuine regret might pop up. Then I feel bad about myself. I get caught up in how to fix the mess, pulled between my self-righteousness and an ardent wish to let go.
Almost always, healing the wound I’ve imposed takes considerable time—time that could have been used for better purposes if I had only held my tongue.
Anger is like a boomerang. It always comes back to haunt you in negative ways.
Scientific research verifies how chronic anger is injurious for your health. In fact, anger especially hurts your heart. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease can result from an untamed anger response. Anger may be implicated in diabetes too.
When aggression activates the body’s “fight or flight” system—the adrenalin response—the immune system also goes on hold. This can cause further wide-ranging effects. All this means that angry people are more likely to get sick.
In addition to the physical effects, no one likes to be around a raging, irritated, or frustrated person. Anger just makes you look ugly and unapproachable.
Taking all the ill effects of anger into account, who would knowingly act in a vexing way? While anger may seem out of our control, that’s not truly the case. The mind is pliable and flexible; it can be trained. You can learn to cultivate love, patience, and tolerance in place of aggressive ways.
How to Turn Anger Around
Once you’re already caught in anger’s snare, what to do? When I lose it, like I did today, this is how I intentionally turn anger around and sculpt a new route of joy and happiness in my brain.
1. Take responsibility.
Whatever the circumstances, anger comes from within. I take responsibility for my emotion and don’t try to pin it on anyone else.
I allow myself time to calm down. I don’t re-engage until my heart and mind feel steady and clear.
I backtrack and apologize for my errant words. Harmful words endanger trust in a relationship. An apology may not immediately repair the hurt that’s occurred, but it’s the right thing to do and creates the space for healing to take place in the right time.
4. Transform the Negative Energy.
Think a positive thought. I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes, understand their perspective, and counter my anger with love, patience, and tolerance.
I resolve to never express another angry thought in words or deeds. Not to even let an angry thought tumble around in my mind endlessly. I know I can’t stop difficult thoughts or emotions from arising in the mind because they are the result of long entrained habits; but I don’t have to fuel or act upon them.
Realistically, I will probably trip up again, but setting a positive intention steadily reorients my behavior in a positive way.
6. Forgive Yourself.
I’m only human. I forgive myself.
7. Move On.
I let go of any thoughts about the event. It’s over and done. Better to stay in the present moment than rehash the past or artificially construct a future, which may never come to pass.
Catch Anger Before It Catches You
Anger tends to create an explosive mess that quickly becomes more and more entangled. Isn’t it smarter to avoid anger in the first place if you can?
Love and patience are the two most powerful antidotes to anger.
The tendency to get angry slowly erodes when you actively cultivate love and patience every day. Just as darkness cannot exist in the light, love and patience will outshine anger every time.
An easy way to cultivate love is to recall a memory of a time you felt deeply loved as a child or as an adult. If it was a moment of unconditional love, all the better, but any glimmer of love will serve as a spark.
As the sensations of love begin to arise in your heart, allow them to grow stronger and stronger. Bask in this feeling of warmth and then start sending love to your self by softly repeating the phrases, “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe.”
Next, progressively extend these feelings of love to your family, close friends, strangers, and even people you dislike. It might be hard at first, but little by little, through dedicated training, you will be able to encircle the whole world with love.
Another way to inoculate your mind and heart against the vagaries of anger is to reflect on the benefits of patience each day. Consider how patience will help you become:
- More peaceful and gentle
- More open, flexible, and relaxed
- Easier to get along with
- Able to turn around negative circumstances
- Grounded, courageous, and confident
By infusing your mind with the wonder of patience again and again, it will be easier to pause and meet dissatisfaction or anger with a more enlightened response.
The aim of our practice isn’t to suppress or deny anger. When anger arises, don’t try to push it away. It will only grow stronger if you do. See it clearly and apply love, compassion, and patience to melt anger away.
Isn’t it clear? We’ll never find happiness with anger by our side. Anger immediately disrupts our own mind.
By cultivating love and patience, even just a few moments a day, you’ll gradually overshadow anger and feel greater peace and contentment too. And, should anger ever come to visit, like on my triple critical day, you’ll know exactly what to do.
Photo by www.CourtneyCarmody.com