Family, Anger, and the Heart

Anger…everyone experiences anger. We get angry over so many things. Even those we love can arouse our anger at times. Many times, however, our anger is not a “righteous anger” over some injustice or true wrong but a reflection of our selfishness—things don’t go “my” way, someone interferes with “me” getting what “I” want, or something making “me look bad.” Perhaps it is that selfish aspect of anger that can make it so detrimental to our relational and physical health. It’s true, anger is detrimental to our physical health.

In fact, a study recently compared the impact of sadness, anxiety, and anger on vascular functioning, which impacts heart health. The results of this study revealed that sadness and anxiety did not impact vascular functioning, but anger did. Anger led to an “impairment in blood vessel dilation,” which can increase the risk of heart disease.

Why do I tell you this? Because I know you love your family with all your heart and, as a result, you want to protect your heart and your family’s heart by helping everyone manage anger effectively. Do so begins with you. When you model effective anger management, your spouse and children will likely learn better anger management skills as well. What are these skills?

  • Identifying the thoughts that escalate your “anger cycle.” When you become angry, what thoughts go through your mind? These thoughts will likely follow a pattern, so identify the pattern. Does the pattern of thought involve personalizing? Catastrophizing or generalizing? Blaming? Unrealistic expectations? As you identify these anger promoting thought patterns, write down alternative, yet realistic, thoughts that will help manage your anger, soothe your anger, see the situation in a more realistic manner rather than through the lens of anger. For example, rather than generalizing, make the thought specific. Instead of catastrophizing, let the thought reflect the temporary nature of the situation. If you hold unrealistic expectations, write down realistic expectations.
  • While looking at your “anger cycle,” become aware of what you feel physically as anger escalates. How does your body feel different when you are a little agitated versus angry versus “about to blow”? Where do you first feel anger in your body? How do you recognize anger in your neck, torso, hands, legs, head? Now, practice relaxation exercises for each body part. Learn how you can help that body part relax and “stay calm” in the midst of anger.
  • Breath. Take a deep breath and blow the breath out slowly as if you were blowing through a straw. As you let your breath slowly escape, turn your head to look around the room and notice the details of where you are. You’ll be surprised how much your anger will calm while doing this simple breath.
  • Walk away for 30 minutes. Rather than dwell and let the anger escalate, ask to take a break with the promise of returning to the issue at hand after 30 minutes. During your break, don’t dwell on the issue triggering your anger. If you are angry at a loved one, remember the loving times you have enjoyed with them. Sing a song. Do a puzzle. Read a magazine. Chances are, as you allow your mind to dwell on something other than your anger, you will return calmer and may even wonder why it had escalated so much to begin with.
  • Apologize for the part you played in the situation that aroused the anger. Apologize with no “but’s.” Simply take responsibility for any part you played in the anger arousing situation. Apology is humbling, but it reflects love and strength. It proves stronger than anger.
  • Practice forgiveness. Don’t hold a grudge. Let go of the desire for revenge and begin to intentionally think about the other person’s well-being. It’s an act of altruism and often demands a price, but forgiveness contributes to decreasing anger, increasing justice, and increasing intimacy.

Don’t let anger infect the hearts of you or your family members. Instead, let anger signal the need to relax your body, assess your thoughts and expectations, apologize, and forgive. Your heart and your family’s heart will thank you. In fact, they’ll love you wholeheartedly for managing your anger effectively.

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