The Zen of Anger: 5 Tips to Overcome Negative Reactions

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.” ~Anthony Robins

I used to be an angry person. And I was happy about that. In fact, I prided myself on that identity during high school.

So devoted to the young and vapid demographic, I would stand in front of the bathroom mirror and practice the eighties version of the mad dog stare. In the eleventh grade, I decided smiling wasn’t hip, so I stopped.

I wore surly like the Goth kids take to all-black attire. My friends thought I was cool because I said what I felt and did what I wanted. “You’re so awesome, Linda—it’s like you don’t care what other people think of you.”

Except that I did. I cared so much, in fact, that I buried the vulnerability and the emotional pain from feeling that I wasn’t in control of my life.

The truth is that many teens don’t feel like they fit in during the tumultuous high school years.

Most people mature and evolve as they get older. Except those who don’t. Those of us who carry the smirk and the swagger past the twelfth grade are in for an adulthood of pain and emotional suffering.

True rebels without a cause.

Luckily, in my twenties I had an epiphany, which led me to change my negative, brooding, fly-off-the-handle ways.

One day during a phone conversation, my friend Rachel made a comment that has stuck with me to this day. I was blabbing on about how the car mechanic was overcharging me for a transmission repair.

All of a sudden Rachel interrupted me and said, “Did you ever notice that you get into a lot of fights with people?”

My stomach dropped and my cheeks were hot as I fought back tears.

I’d like to say I heeded this message immediately. Unfortunately, it was a couple of years before I finally turned my back on angry outbursts.

The irony is that I’ve made a career out of counseling adolescents. Many are referred to therapy because of anger management issues.

Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems—problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you’re at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion.”

The good news is that, regardless of where your anger originated (DNA, angry parents or family members, childhood experiences, or lifestyle), there are practical tools available to manage your anger so it does not manage you.

I’d be remiss if I said that you’ll wake up tomorrow and feel like Calm Callie or Stress-free Steve.

Because anger has built up over many years, you’re probably good at projecting it (“throwing” it onto others as a defense against feeling it for yourself)—and it will take time to change.

You’ve got to own your anger. Nobody made you into an angry person. Sure Mom and Dad, childhood events, past romantic relationships, and other situations may have contributed, but the past is gone forever.

The beautiful thing is that you have today, and today you can feel calm, collected, and in control of your emotions.

The following five tips, when practiced regularly, will replace negative reactions and lead to a more Zen-like you.

1. Pay attention to your morning routine.

How we start our day affects how the rest of our activities unfold. Set your alarm for fifteen minutes earlier (don’t worry—I’ll make it up on the backend in tip #5).

Before you get out of bed, take a couple of breaths and say something positive. For example, “Another day. Another chance for a fresh start.” When you find yourself rushing throughout the day, remind yourself “there is enough time.”

2. Get in touch with your anger.

Do the following exercise when you have at least thirty minutes of uninterrupted time.

Find a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes and think of what your anger looks like. What color or images do you see? Where in your body do you store anger? Pay attention to body temperature, clinched fists, heart rate, muscle tension, and butterflies in your stomach.

Practice deep breaths throughout this exercise, and take a break if the feelings become too intense.

When you’re ready, open your eyes and take a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Pick up a notepad and jot down all your angry thoughts.

Don’t overthink this—keep the stream of thoughts flowing without editing your responses. Spend at least five minutes recording what, where, when, and around whom you feel most angry.

Read the list and decide what are your three biggest anger triggers and/or situations. Make a circle around the top three.

On another sheet of paper, write three strategies for remedying each one.

For example: Problem #1:

I can’t stand my job.


  • Update my resume by Friday at noon.
  • Contact two people and network about possible job openings by Thursday at 5:00 pm.
  • Call my mentor today and invite her to lunch in exchange for business ideas. (Pick up the tab).

Repeat this exercise frequently, and don’t worry if some of the same issues show up. Problem-solving takes practice and patience.

3. Unplug.

Technology encourages us to react quickly. The minute we get that text or feel the phone vibration, we’re racing to respond. Reacting impulsively is a trigger for angry outbursts. Set aside time each day to be free from checking email, social media sites, and text messaging.

4. Train your mind to respond slower.

Think, speak, drive, text, listen, cook, eat, and walk slower. When you slow down, you’ll feel more in control of your options and your inner life.

Leave post-it reminders on the computer, your car dashboard, and your front door. Our brains are not trained to remember many things, so write it down.

5. Sleep on it!

Honestly, if I had to choose just one option to manage anger, it would be getting sufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation is a huge culprit in negative moods, including anxiety and depression.

Commit to going to bed earlier during the week. It’s nearly impossible to make calm, measured, responsible choices if you can barely keep your eyes open.

Bottom line: You have everything you need to change. With daily commitment, practice, and patience, you’ll increase problem-solving abilities so you can manage your anger, rather than have your anger manage you.

Remember, living in the past causes depression. Living in the future causes anxiety. Living in the here-and-now enables you to make healthy choices to increase emotional well-being.

And the future begins now.

About Linda Esposito

Linda Esposito, LCSW is a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, CA. Her views on mental health can be found online at the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Her latest project, Wired For Happy helps intrepid mental wellness strivers achieve more positive emotions and healthier relationships. For information about Team Happy, click here.

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