How To Stay Calm Instead Of Losing It

It’s easy to let little things get to you: lukewarm coffee, Apple rumours, unfair reprimands from your boss. Losing your cool can be tempting, but it’s a knee-jerk reaction you’ll hate yourself for later. Here’s how to track what’s causing those reactions, and teach yourself to chill out.

Title image remixed from Steven Damron
Let’s be clear: it’s not a good idea to stifle your anger all the time. Sometimes, a knee-jerk reaction is unavoidable. But all too often, we do something embarrassing when we’re upset. Let’s take a look at some of the psychological tactics you can employ to control and avoid those reactions and condition yourself to stay calm.

Methods To Calm Yourself

We know that stress is often a primary cause of anger, but even if you’re a pretty relaxed person you’re bound to get up-in-arms at some point. Here are a few mental tricks you can use to chill out.

Imagine Yourself as a Fly on the Wall

Often, manging anger is all about perspective. One simple trick to control your rage is to imagine yourself as a fly on the wall. The point is to distance yourself and see the bigger picture. Researchers recently published an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology confirming the fly on the wall approach often works:

These findings demonstrate that people can self-distance in the heat of the moment, and that doing so reduces aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behaviour.

You don’t need to distance yourself physically from a situation. This is the best part: you can actually use this technique in the heat of the moment. Just pull back your point of view to look at the larger picture and distance yourself emotionally from the event.

Ask Why? (And Other Questions)

If you’re too worked up to create that mental distance but the cause of your anger is another person, try slowing the whole process down by asking questions. The key here is to turn your anger into curiosity. You can do this by simply asking “Why?” You can take it a step further and follow blogger Dustin Curtis’ advice: make yourself to ask three questions about what’s making you angry:

I’ve started forcing myself to ask the other person at least three questions about their opinion. Forming those questions helps me think. Often, my gut negative opinion changes. Sometimes, the questions change the other person’s opinion. There is no downside.

Three questions can slow down the conversation enough to cool it off. Even if your anger comes from something you can’t control — traffic or a flight delay — you can also ask yourself those same three questions.

Don’t Vent: Wait

“Walk it off”, “stop and breathe”, “take some time out” are venerable pieces of advice, but they persist because they work. As we’ve noted before, venting frustration doesn’t help you feel any better, and sometimes all you need is a little physical distance. If you can slow down in a situation, or walk away completely, do it. That distance and time will help you formulate your reaction better, and might even curb your anger completely.

You’ll find lots of different anger management techniques out there, and in the end, it’s about finding what works best for you. You’ll have to experiment a little to get it right. Better still? Figure out the real causes and start preparing yourself ahead of time. Photo by San José Library.

Track Your Angry Reactions and Control Them Before They Start

These methods are great for calming yourself , but an even better solution is stopping those angry moments before they even begin. One method is to fill out our survey that tracks everything you do. This is great for identifying if your angry moments are caused by diet, lack of sleep, over-scheduling.

That said, sometimes angry responses have nothing to do with how you’re taking care of yourself. They just happen. When those moments happen, I like to write them down, along with the apparent cause. Here’s what I do:

  • When I get irrationally angry about something I note the time and reason behind my knee-jerk reaction.
  • Next, I write down the cause (or suspected cause), who I’m with, and my location (mall, driving, reading at home, work, whatever). The cause might be as minor as a headline in a news story or getting cut off in traffic.
  • I keep a log of all this stuff in a notepad, organised by location.
  • Once everything is organised by location, I try to make connections and identify what’s causing problems.

For instance, when I look over my notes, I’ll see that I get angry when I’m shopping, especially when I go later in the evening. Solution? Stop going later in the evening, or mentally prepare myself for that moment so I know what to expect. I also have friends who are good at getting me riled up, and websites that I know will often get a rise out of me. Before I head to those places, I think about the potential situations, plan accordingly (leave earlier during rush hour, take a long walk before the mall), and dive in knowing I’m prepared to quell my angry moments.

A little mental preparation goes a long way in making those moments manageable. Once you know your common triggers, it’s a lot easier to stay calm when you encounter them. Photo by Guudmorning!.

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