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9 Ways to Stop Anger in Its Tracks

By Marisa Cohen
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
April 10, 2024
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Let’s be honest: There are so many different things to be angry about these days. Just turn on the news for one minute, and you’ll likely find at least three things that can make your blood boil. And that’s not even counting the person pushing ahead of you in the line at the coffee bar, or the morning traffic that has you leaving for work earlier and earlier just to arrive on time.

Anger is, in fact, a typical human reaction to unfair or difficult situations, and it’s not without benefits. “Anger helps us understand that we have a need that isn’t being met,” says Amy Vigliotti, Ph.D., a psychologist and founder of SelfWorks, in New York City.

And though it’s normal to feel anger, it’s important to find healthy ways to let it go. “When we get angry, the physical responses can feel so overwhelming that it’s hard to think clearly,” says Angela Ficken, L.I.C.S.W., a therapist in Boston. “We react without thinking through the consequences, and the decisions we end up making aren’t always the best.”

How to Press Pause on Anger

In the past, it was thought that punching a pillow or screaming into the void was the best way to release anger, but research suggests that this only made people more aggressive. With that in mind, here are nine helpful ways to let off some steam.

1. Stop and Smell the Roses

Copious research has been conducted on the calming effects of greenery. In one small Japanese study of young men, participants who engaged in flower arranging had decreased levels of anger, hostility, and stress hormones. So when you find yourself mad at the world, buy a bunch of flowers at the local florist or deli, or pick some from your yard, and spend a few minutes arranging them in a vase.

2. Write a Letter

Anger can often be connected to a feeling of powerlessness, but Vigliotti points out that when anger is funneled into action, it can change the world (e.g., the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements). If you’re angry about something going on in the world, instead of silently fuming or boiling over with rage, channel that emotion into writing to your representative, calling a friend to plan a rally, or donating to your favorite organization.

3. Hold a Piece of Ice

This action can literally cool you down in the heat of the moment. Get a piece of ice and squeeze it in your hands; then run it along your arms or face. “Holding something cold helps you regulate your body response to anger, including your racing heart, clenched muscles, and increased adrenaline,” Ficken says.

It can also help slow down your racing thoughts so you can think more clearly, she adds. “You can ask yourself, ‘What do I need right now? How do I make the best decision for myself?’ instead of letting anger dictate how you act.”

4. Remember the Lyrics to Your Favorite TV Theme Song

Studies suggest that distracting your brain from brooding over what ticked you off is one of the best strategies for dialing down anger. Instead of stewing, think about your favorite TV show theme tune (The Golden Girls? Friends? The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?) and try to remember as many lyrics as you can. This will both distract you from the anger and bring back a rush of happy nostalgia.

5. Shred It

Another way to get rid of the anger is to write down what you’re mad about and run it through a paper shredder. You will see your anger fall to pieces in front of your eyes.

6. Hug It Out

Getting a gentle squeeze from someone you care about—your partner, your mom, or even your furry pet—is one of the best ways to dial down your anger. In fact, studies suggest hugging can reduce challenging feelings after an interpersonal conflict.

7. Shake Up a Sparkle Jar

Going back to grade school arts and crafts, fill a clean, empty peanut butter or mayonnaise jar with water (nearly to the top) and then add one or two teaspoons of glitter and a few drops of glycerin. When you’re angry, shake it up and then watch as the sparkles settle back down.

“This represents how stressed you’re feeling in your agitated state, and then as you sit and watch the material settle back down, you can calmly breathe and settle yourself back down as well,” Vigliotti says.

8. Jump Around

Many studies have connected exercise with reducing anger. For a quick way to take advantage of this phenomenon, find a quiet spot where you won’t disturb anyone and then jump up and down hard and fast a few times, suggests Ficken. “This lets all the physical sensations of anger out in a safe way.”

9. Light a Candle and Then Blow It Out

When anger hits, our heart rate goes up and our breathing gets shallow. One way to get that breath under control: Light a soothing candle and take a few moments to enjoy the aroma (studies have linked the scent of orange and lavender with a relaxing effect and decreased mental stress). Then, inhale deeply and blow a long stream of air to bring your respiration back down to normal.

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