Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Tool For Managing Anger

We all get angry. It's part of being human. The problem with anger is how people handle it. Some of us hold it in, only to explode later. Others explode right away, then regret what they said or did. And some of us try to push our anger down, only to have it leach out in some inappropriate way -- blame, resentment, coldness, and more. And in kids, anger can lead to bullying. (I don't like you anymore, and I'm going to tell my friends so they won't like you anymore either!)

The truth about anger is that we always have a choice in terms of how we're going to respond to it. We actually need to make friends with angry feelings that arise in us, accepting that we're going to get angry from time to time, and when we do, we can choose a healthy way to respond. The best strategy I know for responding to anger is called "STOP, BREATHE, CHILL."

Here's how it works. When anger strikes, and your heart starts pounding and palms get sweaty, take the first step and simply STOP. Say the word in your head, and instead of going forward into the anger, flash a stop sign in your head, and as you do, BREATHE --  three slow deep breaths -- inhale deeply and picture the air going right into your abdomen. In fact, as you inhale, expand the lower abdomen as though it were filled with air.

Next, CHILL by replacing reactive thoughts with a calming statement. The one I always use is, "I can handle this." Some people use a single word, like "Peace," others use a favorite phrase from a song or prayer, and others use a calming image or a word that represents it (beach, sky, ocean). Choose a calming statement that works for you, and use it every time anger strikes.

Each time you use "STOP, BREATHE, CHILL," you'll be training your brain to respond to anger in a whole new way. In the process, you'll actually be forming a new neural pathway.  In time, you'll find the old reactive patterns having less of hold on you. Not that all angry feelings will fade away forever, but  "STOP, BREATHE, CHILL," will help you gain distance from the old patterns, and greater control over your reactions.

Here's what several 5th-graders reported after learning how to use "STOP, BREATHE, CHILL:"

"Knowing how to stop, breathe, and chill really helps me handle my anger. I can control myself better now. Before I would do things when I was mad that I would feel guilty about. Sometimes I'd end up getting punished. Now I calm myself down and make better choices. I feel better about myself now."

"I use Stop, Breathe, Chill whenever I get mad now. It really helps me. The other day I was on the basketball court and a player shoved me. I was going to shove back, but I thought about the consequences and decided to stop, breathe, and chill instead. I told myself it wasn't worth fighting over, and it wasn't. I was able to lead my team to victory instead of being called out on a foul for fighting."

"STOP, BREATHE, CHILL" can help people of any age choose a response to anger, rather than simply reacting to it. In the process we actually can make friends with anger, allowing it to guide us to a new way of being.



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