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The Role of Mindfulness and Meditation in Managing Anger

Understanding Anger

Feeling angry sometimes is a normal part of life. We may get angry as a reaction to a situation where we feel we have been wronged or treated badly, or because we feel powerless in a situation. Anger can also be bound up with feelings of grief, fear and stress

Anger is not always a reaction to our current circumstances; we may also get angry on behalf of someone else, because of a news story we have seen or when we are thinking about something that happened in the past. 

Anger can have a negative mental and emotional impact on us and it can also produce physical changes, such as:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Teeth gritting or grinding
  • Jaw clenching
  • Redness in the face or chest
  • Feeling hot and/or tense

People react to their anger in different ways, including internalising it or holding it in, vocalising their feelings, channelling anger into something creative or lashing out and hitting things. Some of these behaviours are more destructive and troublesome than others.

If anger is having a negative effect on us or those around us, we can find ways to manage our anger. This is called anger management. When we feel angry our body is in a state of hyper-arousal and to counteract this we need to calm down, which can be challenging. There are many different techniques that people adopt to manage their anger, both short and long term, such as:

  • Deep breathing techniques
  • Exercise
  • Therapy (such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT))
  • Support groups

Mindfulness and meditation are two interconnected but separate techniques that some people also find useful to help them manage cycles of stress, anger and intrusive thoughts.

What is Mindfulness

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a special way of mental focus where you learn to be hyper-aware of the present moment and what is going on around you. It is based on the idea of being aware of, and acknowledging, the present but not reacting to or feeling overwhelmed by it. 

The key theory behind mindfulness is that by using certain techniques you can:

  • Be aware of the thoughts that come and go in your mind and learn which are unhelpful
  • Pay special attention to your body and how it reacts to your thoughts (increased heart rate, sweating, rapid breathing etc.)
  • Start to create ‘space’ between you and your thoughts so that you can take time to reflect before reacting which can lead to increased calmness and reduce anxiety

Mindfulness has been known to help with:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Relaxation
  • Promoting inner peace
  • Managing anger or negative thoughts
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Improving conflict/resolution skills

Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness techniques have roots in ancient East Asian practices, including Buddhism, spirituality and meditation.  

Mindfulness techniques include:

  • Mindful meditation – this incorporates elements of both mindfulness and meditation.
  • Mindful colouring – where you focus not on the art itself necessarily but on the sound of the pencils on the page or the vibrations in your hand as you make pencil strokes.
  • Mindful walking/jogging – awareness of your surroundings, using all of your senses and being in the present as you walk or jog.
  • Body scan – this involves bringing awareness to your body as you mentally scan it from head to toe. Notice the feelings or sensations in different areas such as tension, aches, pains or tingling.

We know that getting out in nature can boost mental health and make us feel calmer. You can bring mindfulness techniques with you, by taking a mindful walk in the park, for example. To experience mindfulness in nature you might pause to appreciate the colour of the sky or the sounds of leaves as they rustle in the wind. 

Being mindful can help to reduce the unhelpful, intrusive or disruptive thoughts that often accompany our anger.

Meditation and Anger

Meditation and Anger

Mindful meditation involves sitting still in a calm, quiet space and focusing on your breath, thoughts and sensations in your body, bringing your mind back to these things when it starts to wander. 

Some people meditate with their eyes closed or they may use a mantra to help them focus. This can be a mandala type picture with a series of interconnected patterns to stare at or a specific word, phrase or number that they repeat in their head. Mantras can help to keep the mind focused and calm.

Making space and time to meditate is thought to help with:

  • Acknowledging and understanding bad thoughts, pain or trauma
  • Lowering stress and promoting calm
  • Making us feel connected to our minds and bodies
  • Concentration and focus
  • Reducing confusion and chaotic thoughts

Rather than mediating only when you are experiencing anger, it is most beneficial if you build the habit into your weekly routine. Both mindfulness and meditation are skills that you can build on and improve over time. 

Here is an example guide on how to mindfully meditate to help with anger:

  1. Find a calm and quiet spot, indoors or outdoors – some people even meditate in the shower!
  2. Sit, kneel or stand in a comfortable position that you can maintain for a few minutes.
  3. You may want to close your eyes or soften your gaze.
  4. Start to focus on your body and how it feels and think about your breath and feel the sensation of your diaphragm as it rises and falls.
  5. Pay attention to your thoughts and notice when your mind has wandered. 
  6. Avoid obsessing over your thoughts, simply bring your focus back to your breath and being present in the moment. 
  7. Gently end the practice when it feels right for you. Take a moment to notice how your mind and body feel afterwards.

Meditating as a way to manage anger can help us to identify the unhelpful thoughts that we experience as our mind starts to wander during meditation exercises. This can help to start to address the root cause of our anger and lead us to become more accepting and compassionate towards ourselves as we learn to accept and overcome these complex thoughts and feelings.

Scientific Evidence

Some studies have linked active engagement in mindfulness techniques to lower aggression and lower anger intensity and anger rumination. Many of these studies are conducted utilising self-reporting questionnaires, meaning that they require participants to have significant self-awareness. 

Further scientific research has found evidence that mindfulness techniques can improve our health and wellbeing:

  • A 2018 study undertaken as part of research done into psychology and traffic found that mindfulness was likely to be an effective technique in reducing angry and aggressive driving.
  • A 2017 paper that discussed the results of both surveys and lab measurements found that mindfulness was associated with reduced levels of cardiovascular activity during stressful conflict situations between spouses. This was possibly due to mindfulness influencing people’s ability to control and regulate their emotions.
  • Loucks et al. 2015 found trait mindfulness was associated with increased physical activity, reduced likelihood of smoking and improved diet.

Practical Tips

Sometimes people discuss the 3 C’s of mindfulness. These principles can help when it comes to approaching and managing anger:

  • Curiosity – approach problems or obstacles with a curious mind. For example, if your boss shouts at you and annoys you, take a moment to stop and observe the situation. Think about things from their perspective and view things as an outsider rather than a participant. This creates space between you and the problem and gives you a moment to calm down.
  • Compassion – meet challenges with an element of self-compassion. This can help to improve your resilience and self-esteem. Try telling yourself that ‘You’ve got this’ ‘Everything will get better’ ‘You will be okay’ or ‘A setback does not equal failure’. Taking time to give yourself a short pep talk allows you to think before reacting and to consider yourself an active participant with choices rather than a victim.
  • Calm centre – this combines elements of the other principles. Using curiosity and compassion can help you to develop a calm centre. This offers the opportunity to review your situation, create space and distance between yourself and the problem and calm down. By taking the time to calm down you will react in a more measured and rational way rather than with raw emotions.

To make the most of mindfulness or meditation you may want to:

  • Incorporate mindfulness into your regular activities rather than waiting until you feel triggered by something to practise.
  • Try mindfulness in a minute – you can practise the technique in a short time frame to give you a quick refresh of your thoughts and an instant mental boost.
  • Connect with other people who you can relate to and build a support network.
  • Practise compassion and self-care.
  • Look after your physical health which will help you to feel better overall, as mental and physical health are linked to one another. This includes a healthy diet, good quality sleep and taking measures to lower your stress levels.
  • Reduce or avoid triggers that may interfere with both your emotions and your clarity of thoughts (such as drugs or alcohol).
  • Utilise the benefit of going outdoors and getting fresh air to boost your mental wellbeing. Bring your mindfulness with you as you take a walk, go on a run or appreciate nature.

Meditation and mindfulness can be used in conjunction with other coping strategies and techniques that deal with anger. If anger is taking its toll on your life, it is important that you take steps to address the root cause and find techniques that work for you, rather than relying on one single way to deal with the problem.

To complement your mindfulness strategies, you can take additional steps to manage stressful situations and anger, such as:

  • Remove yourself from the stressful situation (walking away, taking a break, counting to ten before reacting etc.).
  • Learn to recognise the difference between healthy anger and unhealthy anger.
  • Avoid resorting to poor coping strategies (getting aggressive or abusive, breaking things, isolating yourself).
  • Reach out and talk about your feelings rather than bottling things up.
  • Take advantage of psychotherapy or talking therapies to address the cause of your anger problems.
  • Address any additional mental health issues that may be affecting your anger such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or substance abuse disorder.
Benefits Beyond Anger

Benefits Beyond Anger

Mindfulness and meditation are thought to have benefits beyond helping with anger and emotional regulation. People experiencing a range of mental and emotional issues may find these techniques useful, including:

There is some evidence to suggest that people experiencing physical problems such as chronic pain may also benefit from practising meditation and mindfulness. 

Making space and time for ourselves and using mindfulness and meditation techniques can help people to feel generally calmer and improve their overall wellbeing. These practices can be combined as part of overall self-care that can benefit both our bodies and minds. Some other benefits of practising mindfulness and meditation include:

  • Techniques can be practised by anyone of any age, religion, ability or class
  • No special equipment or prior knowledge is required
  • Practice can be self-paced and self-led
  • Cost effective

If you prefer a more structured approach to therapy, you can also take a step further into the world of guided mindfulness and meditation. There are a range of books, podcasts or online videos that can provide tips and guidance on how to effectively practise these ancient techniques.

Additionally, some therapy and stress reduction programmes have started to incorporate mindfulness techniques into them, including:

  • Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
  • Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR)

Whether you choose to practise mindfulness at home or you incorporate it into a more structured therapeutic approach, the fundamental benefits include:

  • A sense of peace and control
  • Reduction of negative thought patterns
  • Improved mental and emotional wellbeing
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills
  • Better emotional regulation

Anger can be a healthy emotion but it can also be disruptive and damaging. Practising mindfulness and meditation can make us feel calmer and help us learn to tune out the negative, angry thoughts that can disrupt our inner peace.

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About the author

Vicky Miller

Vicky Miller

Vicky has a BA Hons Degree in Professional Writing. She has spent several years creating B2B content and writing informative articles and online guides for clients within the fields of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, recruitment, education and training. Outside of work she enjoys yoga, world cinema and listening to fiction podcasts.

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