“Breathing is the number one and most effective technique for reducing anger and anxiety quickly,” says Scott Dehorty, LCSW-C, of Delphi Behavioral Health.
When you are anxious or angry, you tend to breathe quickly and shallowly. Dehorty says this sends a message to your brain, leading to a positive feedback loop that strengthens your fight-or-flight response. This is why deep breathing for long periods of time can disrupt this cycle and help you calm down.
There are many breathing techniques to help you calm down. One is three-part breathing. This requires you to take a deep breath and then exhale completely while paying attention to your body.
Once you get used to deep breathing, you can change the ratio of inhalation to exhalation to 1:2 (you slow down your exhalation so that it’s twice as long as your inhalation).
Practice these techniques calmly so you know what to do when you are anxious.
2. Relax your body
When you are anxious or angry, you will feel that every muscle in your body is in a state of tension (which they may be). Practising progressive muscle relaxation can help you calm down and focus.
To do this, lie down on the floor with your arms out by your side. Make sure your feet aren’t crossed and your hands aren’t in fists. Start at your toes and tell yourself to release them. Slowly move up your body, telling yourself to release every part of your body until you get to your head.
3. Drop your shoulders
If your body is tense, your posture is likely to be affected. Sit up straight, take a deep breath, and lower your shoulders. To do this, you can focus on putting the shoulder blades together and then lowering them. This will lower your shoulders. Take a few deep breaths. You can do this multiple times a day.
4. Write it down
If you are too angry or anxious to talk about it, please take a diary and write down your thoughts. Don't worry about complete sentences or punctuation, just write them down. Writing can help you get rid of negative thoughts.
You can go a step further and develop an action plan to stay calm after you finish writing.
5. Release the anxiety or anger
Dehorty recommends exercising to release emotional energy. "Go for a walk or run. [Participate in] some sports activities [release] serotonin to help you calm down and feel better."
However, you should avoid physical activities that include expressing anger, such as slamming walls or screaming.
“This has been shown to increase feelings of anger, as it reinforces the emotions because you end up feeling good as the result of being angry,” Dehorty explains.
6. Visualize yourself calm
This technique requires you to practice the breathing techniques you have learned. After taking a few deep breaths, close your eyes and picture yourself calm. See your body relax and imagine yourself going through stressful or anxious situations by remaining calm and focused.
By creating a mental picture of what it looks like to stay calm, you can look back at that picture when you are anxious.
7. Listen to music
Next time when you feel an increase in anxiety, put on headphones and listen to your favourite music. Listening to music can have a very calming effect on your body and mind.
8. Challenge your thoughts
Part of the cause of anxiety or anger is the generation of irrational thoughts that are not necessarily meaningful. These thoughts are usually the "worst-case scenario". You may find yourself stuck in a "what if" cycle, which can cause you to spoil many things in your life.
When you encounter one of these ideas, stop and ask yourself the following questions:
Is this likely to happen?
Is this a rational thought?
Has this ever happened to me before?
What’s the worst that can happen? Can I handle that?
After you go through the questions, it’s time to reframe your thinking. Instead of “I can’t walk across that bridge. What if there’s an earthquake, and it falls into the water?” tell yourself: “There are people that walk across that bridge every day, and they have never fallen into the water.”
9. Change your focus
Leave the situation, look in another direction, walk out of the room, or go outside.
Dehorty recommends this exercise so you can make better decisions. “We don’t do our best thinking when anxious or angry; we engage in survival thinking. This is fine if our life is really in danger, but if it isn’t life-threatening, we want our best thinking, not survival instincts,” he adds.
10. Think it through
Have a mantra to use in critical situations. Just make sure it’s one that you find helpful. Dehorty says it can be, “Will this matter to me this time next week?” or “How important is this?” or “Am I going to allow this person/situation to steal my peace?”
This allows the thinking to shift focus, and you can “reality test” the situation.
“When we’re anxious or angry, we become hyper-focused on the cause, and rational thoughts leave our mind. These mantras give us an opportunity to allow rational thought to come back and lead to a better outcome,” Dehorty explains.
11. Identify pressure points to calm anger and anxiety
A massage or acupuncture is a good way to control anxiety and anger. But it is not always easy to find time in the day to achieve it. The good news is that you can perform acupressure on yourself to relieve anxiety immediately.
This method involves applying pressure on certain parts of the body with your fingers or hands. The pressure releases tension and relaxes your body.
A starting area is the point where the inside of the wrist forms a crease with the hand. Press your thumb on the area for two minutes. This can help relieve tension.
12. Get some fresh air
The temperature and air circulation in the room can increase your anxiety or anger. If you are nervous and the space you are in is hot and stuffy, this may trigger a panic attack.
Remove yourself from that environment as soon as possible and go outside, even if it's only a few minutes. Not only will the fresh air help calm you down, but also the change of scenery can sometimes interrupt your anxious or angry thought process.
13. Fuel your body
If you’re hungry or not properly hydrated, many of these techniques won’t work. That’s why it’s important to slow down and get something to eat, even if it’s just a small snack.
14. Have a centring object
When you are anxious or angry, most of your energy is spent on irrational thoughts. When you are calm, look for a "centering object", such as a small toy, a polished stone in your pocket, or a small box pendant hanging around your neck.
Tell yourself that when you feel anxious or depressed, you will touch this object. This will keep you focused and help you calm your thoughts. For example, if you are working and your boss makes you anxious, gently rub the locket around your neck.
15. Admit that you’re anxious or angry
Allow yourself to say that you are anxious or angry. When you mark your feelings and allow yourself to express them, the anxiety and anger you experience can decrease.