Anger. It’s one of our uglier emotions. Sometimes it gets the better of us, other times we try to hide it. Angry? Who, Me? The truth is that anger is information and it’s what we do with that information that matters. Anger can destroy us or change the world. But can mindfulness help you control anger?
We’re all irked by different things. What makes me angry might simply amuse you and vice versa. A recent study suggests that one of the common triggers for anger is other people. This is something that we hear time and time again on our courses and coaching. If only colleagues would be less annoying, the boss more flexible or family members more accepting. It’s part of being human. We get annoyed. It’s normal. We get angry and then we feel bad for feeling angry. But what if we were able to reframe that anger as ‘data’ and then find a way to manage it? Here’s the place that mindfulness and neuroscience begin to intersect. Can mindfulness help you control anger?
A Universal Physical Response to Anger
We may have different triggers, get angry at different things but the impact of anger is universal. Nasty stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline begin to flood our body. Our heart rate increases along with our blood pressure, pushing us into fight, flight or freeze mode. Unfortunately this is your body’s cue to prep the dumbest part of your brain for takeover. And whilst that may be all well and good if you need to run away from danger or escape threat, it’s not particularly useful if you need to communicate effectively. Ever seen red? Or completely lost your temper and made things worse with an outburst? Then you know what we’re talking about. Known as an amygdala hijack, it will shut down the executive function controlled by the frontal lobe, your brain’s control centre, rendering you unable to think clearly. It’s that lack of clarity and thinking and decision making that mindfulness can help you to overcome.
Mindfulness and Anger
The good news is studies have demonstrated that people who meditate on a regular basis are better able to regulate their emotions. Mindfulness is associated with increased self regulation, meaning that we are less likely to react without thinking. When practiced over time, mindfulness dampens down the activity in the the amygdala. When we meditate we develop compassion, openness and non judgement. The research in this area suggests it is these qualities that enable us to take a step back, look at the facts, reframe anger as data and respond in a way that we choose rather than becoming victims of the amygdala hijack.
Anger gets a bad rap. If we didn’t have anger we wouldn’t have social change or the impetus to right a whole host of wrongs. Anger isn’t bad. It’s what we do with it that matters. Harnessed and used appropriately to make things better, anger is information and it’s information that we need if we’re to make the changes we need to, both to ourselves and the wider world.
Want to know more about mindfulness? Take a look at our free resources including our Introduction to Mindfulness Guide
We’re International Mindfulness Teachers Association professionally accredited and UK Mindfulness Teacher registered. Our senior facilitator, Gill Thackray holds and MSc in Mindfulness Studies and is co-author of the upcoming ‘Mindful Heroes’ launch date July 2019. We work with international companies and individuals to deliver mindfulness at work training, mindfulness and resilience at work courses, mindful leadership programmes mindful coaching and mindful leadership programmes. Get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.