Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

Emotional Strategies: 4 Tips to Deal with Anger

Judith Orloff - Thursday, February 17, 2011

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s NY Times bestseller “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life” (Three Rivers Press, 2011)

Our world is in the midst of an emotional meltdown. People are restless, volatile, our tempers about to blow. There was a Newsweek cover story, “Rage Goes Viral” describing how from Tunisia to Egypt a wave of rage is rocking the Arab world to create revolutions. Rage is also prevalent in our everyday lives: There’s road rage, office rage, supermarket rage, and even surfer’s rage. Why is rage so rampant? What is the solution?

In my book, “Emotional Freedom” I explore the differences between good and bad anger. Anger can be a healthy reaction to injustice such as cultures fighting to free themselves from repressive regimes. Anger rallies people. It creates energy and motivation to rebel against dysfunctional political or social systems. It also motivates groups to go on strike say, for higher, well-deserved wages or to defend human rights. On a personal level, anger can be good if it’s expressed in a focused, healthy way rather than using it to punish or harm others. 

Your Body’s Reaction To Anger

As a psychiatrist, I know that anger is intensely, primally physical. Let’s say a colleague double-crosses you in a business deal. You feel angry. Your amygdala stimulates adrenaline. You get an energy rush that rallies you to fight. Blood flows to your hands, making it easier to grasp a weapon. Your heart pumps faster. You breathe harder. Pupils dilate. You sweat. In this hyperadrenalized state, aggression mounts. You may raise your voice, point accusingly, stare him down, grimace, flail your arms around, verbally intimidate, barge into his personal space. Taken to an extreme, you could literally be driven to knock him out or beat him up. In a pure survival-oriented sense, you want to dominate and retaliate to protect yourself and prevent further exploitation. Anger is one of the hardest impulses to control because of its evolutionary value in defending against danger.

What factors make us susceptible to anger? One is an accumulation of built-up stresses. That’s why your temper can flare more easily after a frustrating day. The second is letting anger and resentments smolder. When anger becomes chronic, cortisol, the stress hormone, contributes to its slow burn. Remaining in this condition makes you edgy, quick to snap. Research has proven that anger feeds on itself. The effect is cumulative: each angry episode builds on the hormonal momentum of the time before. For example, even the most devoted, loving mothers may be horrified to find themselves screaming at their kids if they haven’t learned to constructively diffuse a backlog of irritations. Therefore, the powerful lesson our biology teaches us is the necessity of breaking the hostility cycle early on, and that brooding on the past is hazardous to your well-being.

 For optimal health, you must address your anger. But the point isn’t to keep blowing up when you’re upset rather--it’s to develop strategies to express anger that are body-friendly. Otherwise, you’ll be set up for illnesses such as migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, or chronic pain, which can be exacerbated by tension. Or you’ll keep jacking up your blood pressure and constricting your blood vessels, which compromises flow to the heart. A  Johns Hopkins study reports that young men who habitually react to stress with anger are more likely than their calmer counterparts to have an early heart attack, even without a family history of heart disease. Further, other studies have shown that hostile couples who hurl insults and roll their eyes when arguing physically heal more slowly than less antagonistic partners who have a “we’re in this together” attitude.

Still, repressing anger isn’t the answer either. Research also reveals that those who keep silent during marital disputes have a greater chance of dying from heart disease or suffering stress-related ailments than those who speak their minds.
Here are some strategies from “Emotional Freedom” to productively cope with anger in daily life.

4 Tips To Diffuse Anger

1. When you’re upset, pause, and slowly count to ten.
To offset the adrenaline surge of anger, train yourself not to lash back impulsively. Wait before you speak. Take a few deep breaths and VERY slowly, silently, count to ten (or to fifty if necessary). Use the lull of these moments to regroup before you decide what to do so you don’t say something you regret

2. Take a cooling-off period.
To further quiet your neurotransmitters, take an extended time-out, hours or even longer. When you’re steaming retreat to a calm setting to lower your stress level. Reduce external stimulation. Dim the lights. Listen to soothing music. Meditate. Do some aerobic exercise or yoga to expel anger from your system.

3. Don’t address anger when you’re rushed.
 Make sure you have adequate time to identify what’s made you angry. A Princeton study found that even after theology students heard a lecture on the Good Samaritan, they still didn’t stop to help a distressed person on the street when they thought they’d be late for their next class. Thus, allotting unhurried time to resolve the conflict lets you tap into your most compassionate response.  

4. Don’t try to address your anger when you’re tired or before sleep.
Since anger revs up your system, it can interfere with restful sleep and cause insomnia. The mind grinds. Better to examine your anger earlier in the day so your adrenaline can simmer down. Also being well rested makes you less prone to reacting with irritation, allows you to stay balanced.  

The goal with anger is to own the moment so this emotion doesn’t own you. Then you can mindfully respond rather than simply react. You’ll have the lucidity to be solution oriented and therefore empower how you relate to others.


Judith Orloff, MD is author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Connect with Judith on  Facebook and  Twitter. To learn more about empaths and her free empath support newsletter as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.

Anonymous commented on 03-Feb-2012 07:55 PM
Spoken like a true sensitive...this resonated with me!
Juhaina salam commented on 22-Feb-2012 01:49 PM
Hi Dr. you're amazing i have learned from your Knowledge which you offered a lot,i will improve my english to read all your books sooner or later,Love & light..
Pauline commented on 12-Apr-2012 10:29 AM
Yes, everyone is just so busy rushing around and getting wound up literally. I just hope it is those people that get so aggressive that are the ones that will take time to read your words of wisdom. Thanks.
Myra Hunter commented on 12-Apr-2012 10:31 AM
All your tips are wonderful for handling the effects, but to eliminate anger we must get to the judgment. Dr. Greg Baer addresses this in his books on Real Love. www.reallove.com
Anonymous commented on 12-Apr-2012 11:01 AM
Thanks for your great comments
Linda from IL commented on 12-Apr-2012 11:05 AM
I first read your Emotional Freedom book a few years ago. I am NOT much for self help books, but that along with Dr. David Burns revised version of Feeling Good/The New Mood Therapy really put an end to a lot of my strife in life. One needs to practice
methods on a regular basis, but I am thankful for your tips.
Donald F. Truax commented on 12-Apr-2012 11:05 AM
Love U :) 3
Randell commented on 12-Apr-2012 11:06 AM
Thank you
Hope Morris commented on 12-Apr-2012 11:16 AM
Thank you Judith, I needed a reminder. I am committing these 4 tips to memory.
Jan commented on 12-Apr-2012 11:23 AM
I wanted to thank you for this post and the valuable timing of it for me personally. I had a major upset yesterday with a family member and to have this reminder on hand this morning was a godsend. My body felt thrashed when I woke up this morning and
this was a huge help to read..also the emotional support provided is gold. Thank you thank you thank you. Blessings to you. PS I love your books. The bare honesty and intimacy you express thru your writing is like coming home...truly home.
Renana Magee commented on 12-Apr-2012 12:00 PM
I am so excited to hear what you have to say this weekend at West Hartford Yoga! Love your lessons, THANK YOU :)
Caterina commented on 12-Apr-2012 12:12 PM
Thank you. Just what I needed to hear...when I'm calm and receptive to wonderful insights
Anonymous commented on 12-Apr-2012 01:16 PM
Greatt tips and very timely for me! I have to remember to use the tools when things happen, in the moment.
stephanie commented on 12-Apr-2012 07:11 PM
Thanks for the reminder, you are my hero. Your books and honesty have opened so many doors I never dared approuch before. Thank you.
Susan commented on 12-Apr-2012 10:38 PM
So wonderful to apply-so hard for those that 'choose' not to! I've personally 'rewired' to your fantastic-proven principles and hard copied this for an old friend~I hope can read and understand. You never disappoint, Judith. Thank you!!
Anonymous commented on 13-Apr-2012 11:45 AM
What is the difference between "hurt" and "anger"?
Dr Jeff commented on 15-Apr-2012 01:26 AM
Excellent article! I am reminded of utilizing the HALT acronym in daily living, if you are Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired address the stresser before making any major decisions or attempting to resolve any conflict.
joan commented on 15-Apr-2012 02:48 PM
Thankyou for the insight into anger and all the other uplifting information that is forwarded to me. Only wish that you were here in England to enjoy your seminars as I am not aware of anyone as open, qualified and trustworthy as you are. Congratulations
on your vote!
Don & Bev Wright commented on 16-Apr-2012 09:06 AM
While using your good tips to diffuse anger,it is terribly important not to deny that it exists or squelch any expression of it. Your tips lead to appropriate expression, AND many are so afraid of even that action that it gets stuffed down where it will
really come out inappropriately or even dangerously.
Cynthia commented on 18-Apr-2012 01:49 PM
Thank you Dr. Orloff ... really appreciate this reminder ...
Ellen Pendleton commented on 20-Apr-2012 12:13 PM
My anger was directed at myself and was killing me. In 2003 I was diagnosed with CFS. In 2006 I learned the tools through Mickel Therapy on how to respond honestly to my emotions that allowed my BODY to stop sending me symptoms. I have known well-being
since 2006 and am physically 110 percent. Sweet.
Abdullah Saad commented on 24-Apr-2012 09:26 AM
I Need this like no more than anyone els, thank you Dr.Jud. Take Care
family counseling commented on 09-May-2012 09:47 PM
Taking some time off to cool down is a step many neglect. This is a really important technique that can determine if a problem will be resolved quickly or not. Thanks for sharing! This is very informative and eye-opening.

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