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The high degree of emotional arousal during anger and other uncomfortable emotion tends to inhibit information processing. It interferes with clear thinking, impairs judgment and prevents from engaging in a constructive way.

How can we increase our self-control and establish a practical intervention to deal with the physical reaction that accompanies anger?

The strategies described in this article are based on the ability of the mind to regulate its emotional response and influence our bodily reactions. The sooner you can become aware of the physical sensation, the sooner and easier your ability is to calm yourself.

Some skills are preventative, before anger arises, and some are helpful during the anger experience itself. These strategies, like any other skill, are needed to be developed and be practiced regularly. With time, they will become an integral part of the individual’s tool box to become more accessible and automatic. The key is to become aware and sensitive to the body sensation and develop the body memory of the relaxation that accompanies the feeling associated with calmness.



Herbert Benson developed the “relaxation response” exercise that designed to reduce stress. The goal of this exercise should be on relaxing the body rather than getting rid of anger. This can be done by increasing the bodily awareness and gain control over the bodily symptoms that accompany stress or anger. By learning how to relax, you are able to calm down and find that the symptoms of stress can be prevented.

In progressive muscle relaxation exercises, you tense up particular muscles and then relax them, and then you repeatedly practice this technique. As a general procedure, you can set aside the time and place for relaxation, slow down your breathing and allow yourself to relax. Then, tense the muscle group you want to focus on (see below the different muscle groups). Make sure you can feel the tension (not pain). Keep the muscle tensed for around 5 seconds. 3 Relax the muscles and keep it relaxed for around 10 seconds. It may be beneficial to say something like “Relax” as you relax the muscle. When you have completed the relaxation practice, remain seated for a few moments allowing yourself to become attentive.

The Different Muscle Groups:

To make it easier to remember, start with your feet and systematically move up (or if you prefer, you can do it in the reverse order, from your forehead down to your feet). For example: Foot (curl your toes downward) Lower leg and foot (tighten your calf muscle by pulling toes towards you) Entire leg (squeeze thigh muscles while doing above) (Repeat on other side of body) Hand (clench your fist) Entire right arm (tighten your biceps by drawing your forearm up towards your shoulder and “make a muscle”, while clenching fist) (Repeat on other side of body) Buttocks (tighten by pulling your buttocks together) Stomach (suck your stomach in) Chest (tighten by taking a deep breath) Neck and shoulders (raise your shoulders up to touch your ears) Mouth (open your mouth wide enough to stretch the hinges of your jaw) Eyes (clench your eyelids tightly shut) Forehead (raise your eyebrows as far as you can).


Anger directly impacts breathing by amplifying it. It increases impulsiveness of nerves and muscles, and also causing the blood vessels in the brain to contract, thereby reducing the flow of oxygen. This is why your heart needs to work harder. The antidote to stress, is creating the opposite, which is slowing your breathing down to four to six breaths per minute that calms your nervous system. Slowing the breath down activates the prefrontal cortex and increases heart rate variability, which helps shift the brain and body from a state of stress to self-control mode.

A few minutes of this technique will make you feel calm, in control, and capable of handling angry situations. It is great to remember that the breath is natural and always accessible. When used consciously and appropriately, it can be used to calm your anger.


This strategy is based on the principle that our emotional and bodily response is due to our thoughts and images. Pleasant thoughts and images will foster relaxation, while tense provoking images will elicit the flight-and-fight response (stress). The effect of positive imagination, particular visual memory, is powerful and well documented by research with biofeedback equipment that helps monitor physiological response. The visualization exercises may feature calm music, or video that plays sounds of peaceful environment as forest or beach.


A written script, audio or a video may provide a narration of instructions for a relaxation with a calm and soft voice. You can start with a short script, and work up to a longer script with practice. Edit and customize the script for your preferences. You can record yourself while reading it slowly (not too slow to be distracted) and clearly in a calm voice. Pause frequently and take at least two or three breaths between each phrase. You can, also, use a soft background music with the script and listen to the relaxation audio often.


Meditation helps relaxing and self-soothing.

Some simple steps for meditation may include:

· Finding a quite place with minimal distraction.

· Sitting comfortably, close your eyes.

· Focusing on a short word or a phrase (mantra)

· Repeating the mantra and synchronize it with your breathing.

· Start practicing for brief time and gradually increase the time frame to around 15-20 minutes.

· Attend to your body and see how relax you become by the end of the meditation.


This strategy is one of the frequently and obvious ways to relax the body especially for younger people. The key is to be involved with a pre-defined and structured physical activity that redirect the energy of anger as it aroused. The physical effort leads to an accomplishment of exercise that is positive not only physically, but also mentally.


Art and creativity could be a constructive force and could be a relaxing way to channel the energy of anger. You might be involved in dance, music, painting, sculpturing etc. All these activities have calming effect and help relax the body. A mellow music, as a passive activity, provided a self-soothing strategy. Other ways include engagement in things you love, hobbies, reading, watching TV.

Learning to check in with your body, paying attention to your sensations and focusing on releasing its tension is a powerful way of connecting to your body, enhancing your sense of spaciousness and expansion. The above relaxation techniques serve as the antidote to stress and anger that tightens and contracts the cells in the body.


Moshe Ratson (MBA, MS MFT, LMFT) is a Licensed Couples Counselor and Marriage Family Therapist as well as Executive Coach based in NYC.

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