What does it mean to you when you say, “I’m angry”? To be blunt, the possibilities are limitless. Anger is an emotion and thus, subject to an infinite number of ever-evolving variables. Our feelings belong to us and manifest uniquely in each of us. Of course, anger is no different.The good news: Anger is a form of information that can help guide us.The not-so-good news: We can sometimes process this information in counterproductive ways, for example:
- Aggression towards yourself, others, or inanimate objects
- Passive-aggression (think: angry/vague Facebook status)
- Impulsive behavior (spending, eating, drinking, etc.)
- Seeing negativity and even catastrophe everywhere
This is where anger management — in particular, anger management meditation — can become a powerful tool. You’ve probably heard the term “anger management” many times but it’s far too often mistaken as simply a way to suppress or perhaps not even feel anger. What it actually refers to is the learning of techniques by which we can recognize the signs of anger, methods to calm ourselves when such anger is felt, and steps that reveal and address the causes of anger in our lives. Some familiar anger management concepts:
- Learn effective communication skills in personal conflicts, such as those taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Physical activity and exercise reduce stress
- Take a timeout — alone
- Avoid holding a grudge and/or letting things drag on
- Seek out and recognize something positive in the situation
- Learn how to reduce stress
That last item smoothly transitions us to an increasingly common method towards managing one’s anger: anger management mindfulness. One of the reasons this modality is so effective relates directly to our hormones; in particular: cortisol and serotonin.
Cortisol. This is the stress hormone called into action as our feelings of anger begin to surface. If our heart rate and blood pressure increase, our muscles tighten, and we experience an adrenaline rush, it’s probably due to an excessive amount of cortisol. Think back to the last time you “flew off the handle.” What likely occurred was an activation of the body’s fight-or-flight response and therefore, a release of cortisol by your adrenal glands. This hormonal imbalance can be reversed through meditation and it involves a little something called serotonin.
Serotonin. They don’t call this neurotransmitter the “feel-good hormone” for nothing! It wields such an extreme influence on our mood that restoring it to proper levels is often the purpose of anti-depression pharmaceutical drugs. When serotonin levels are healthy and balanced, your overall awareness is higher and sharper. Hence, the stimuli that normally induces anger is more readily recognized and processed allowing you to choose mindfulness instead.
The multiple benefits of mindfulness are well-documented and contribute to making mindfulness a logical and effective choice for addressing powerful and sometimes dysfunctional emotions. Stress and anxiety can play major role in causing anger, but a meditative mind is best-suited to counter these tendencies and re-channel our emotions onto a far more productive path.
A note in closing: It’s almost proverbial that Westerners (in general) find it particularly difficult to quiet their minds during mindfulness practice. Ironically, we may even become angry at ourselves when we’re unable to meditate to reduce anger! However, this can be seen as a gift. When sitting mindfully as a path to ease one’s feelings of anger, we can train our focus so deeply on this experience as to overwhelm the initial anger-producing stimuli. We need not “stop our thoughts” or even get rid of our angry feelings for mindfulness to work. The work we do to deepen our mindfulness practice will actually contribute to an overall calmer mind, and help prevent us from having anger turn into actions or behaviors we may later regret.