In this article, we look at mindful ways to stop anger, worry and anxiety pulling you into the future. We also look at ways to move on from the anger and guilt that keeps you stuck in the past.
The ability to think back on the past and to think about the future means that, amongst other things, you can reminisce about good times and look forward to upcoming events.
But this ability is not always an advantage. Too often, your thoughts can trap you; anger and guilt can trap you in the past, worry and anxiety trap you in the future. But the past is gone, and the future isn’t here yet.
Certainly, worry and anxiety, anger and guilt are painful difficult emotions but, remember, emotions have a positive intent – even worry and anxiety, or anger and guilt! These emotions are intended to motivate you to put right a perceived wrong. They only become a problem if you let them trap you in the past or push you into the future.
Related: Mindfulness Exercises: Part II
Table of Contents
I. Managing Painful Emotions: Anger, Worry and Anxiety, Guilt
In this article, we look at mindful ways to stop anger, worry, and anxiety pulling you into the future. We also look at ways to move on from the anger and guilt that keeps you stuck in the past.
You will see how, rather than trying to suppress or battle with them, acknowledging difficult and painful emotions can help you to manage them.
You can let go of past beliefs about difficult situations and old ways of handling them. There are ways to let go of your fears and worries about the past and future and free yourself to focus on the present.
There are suggestions here that might be new to you, like giving yourself “worry time”, creating a mindful space for your anger, or “acting as if you had chosen it”. These are not gimmicks designed to catch your attention. They are ideas and techniques that do work.
Techniques to leave you free to focus and engage with the present.
II. Mindfully managing Anger, Worry and Anxiety, Guilt with the Help of an Example
Having booked a holiday to Italy, Martine checked her passport and saw that it needed renewing. She spent an hour filling out the form for a new passport and, the next day drove to the post office 5 miles away for the” Check and Send” service.
In the queue next to her was Martine’s neighbor, Stephan. Martine happily told him all about her forthcoming trip to Italy. When it was her turn at the counter, Martine handed her form to the assistant at the counter. He read it through but passed it back to Martine telling her that he couldn’t accept it as it had been filled in incorrectly. Martine’s mood changed instantly. “You’re joking.
That’s ridiculous,” Martine exclaimed. She argued with the assistant for a couple of minutes but it was clear he was not going to accept her form. “Thanks for nothing!” she angrily snapped at the assistant. In seconds she had gone from calm and content to angry and rude.
Have you had a similar experience?
Any number of things can trigger anger and frustration – a friend does something that hurts your feelings, your company makes a decision that negatively impacts your work, or someone cuts you up when you’re driving your car.
It’s not wrong to feel worry and anxiety, or angry – anger is a normal human emotion; it’s a natural response to feeling wronged, offended, threatened, or attacked in some way.
But whatever your worry and anxiety, or anger are about, it can cause you to do things that you will regret.
To limit the chances of this happening, try the following mindfulness techniques:
1. Be aware of your warning signs.
In some situations, you can feel your anger building, other times you may become angry in an instant. However quickly your anger manifests itself, you need to be aware of your own, physical warning signs of anger. Learn to recognize them when they begin.
You might feel:
- your heart is beating faster
- you are breathing more quickly
- your face muscles tighten
- your body is becoming tense
- your voice becomes louder and sharper
There’s no need to judge these physical feelings, just be aware of them. Just being aware of these responses is being mindful. It’s a good start to slowing everything down and giving you a chance to think more clearly.
Whatever the physical feelings, there’s no need to suppress or deny that you feel worry and anxiety or anger; simply acknowledge and take responsibility for how you feel.
For Martine, this meant acknowledging “I’m so annoyed” rather than blaming the Post Office assistant for being deliberately difficult.
2. Engage your brain.
It’s easy to become irrational because worry and anxiety, or anger have overwhelmed your rational mind. You need to reduce the possibility of losing control and increase your ability to think more clearly.
So, when you feel yourself getting angry, stop and ask yourself “Am I so angry I can’t think clearly”? “Am I so angry I want to lash out, verbally or physically”?
If the answer is yes, then, before you respond, calm yourself down and let the feelings subside so that you can bring yourself back to the moment and can think straight. All the time you are fuelled by anger your brain is using the amygdala – the emotional, instinctive part of your brain. This shuts down the neo-cortex – the thinking part of your brain.
To access the thinking, rational part of your brain you need to calm down the emotional side. This can be very difficult when you feel painful emotions, such as worry and anxiety, or anger, but it is possible to train yourself to pause before expressing your feelings.
When you become aware of your thoughts you can apply the brakes and bring yourself back to the present moment.
3. Manage the impulse to react immediately.
Slowing down your breathing can help slow your heart rate back to a normal level and help calm you down. So, stop breathing for five seconds (to “reset” your breath) then breathe in slowly for three seconds, then breathe out even more slowly. Keep doing this, and remember it’s the out-breath that will slow everything down.
As well as mindful breathing, there are several other ways to calm down. It depends on what works for you and what’s relevant at the time you feel worry and anxiety, and angry.
You could try to:
- Force yourself to recite the alphabet in your head.
- Count backward from 20.
- Remember everything you had to eat and drink yesterday.
- Count “one elephant, two elephants” up to four in your head whilst breathing in, then hold your breath and do the same counting out.
Each of these techniques forces you to engage the thinking part of your brain. Try them; they do work!
4. Create a mindful space for your anger; it will pass.
- Go for a walk or run or cycle or any other form of exercise that you enjoy.
- If you want, let out the need to lash out by hitting a cushion, breaking crockery, and crying, shouting, screaming, or swearing where it will not alarm anyone.
- Sing along to fast, loud music. This can help you release some of the energy that comes with anger.
- On the other hand, you might want to listen to calming music – this can help change your mood and slow your physical and emotional reactions down.
- Do something creative – this can channel your energy and focus towards something else.
- Phone a friend and tell them what happened and how angry you are.
Once you’ve mindfully managed your worry and anxiety, or anger, you can then think straight and decide what to do next. Don’t think for so long though that your anger builds back up again!
5. Respond assertively.
Whatever you decide to do next, do it assertively, rather than aggressively. Assertively expressing your worry and anxiety, or angry feelings makes communication easier and stops tense situations from getting out of control.
Here are some things you could try:
Ask yourself what you want to happen. Is it enough just to explain what you are angry about, or do you want something to change?
Be specific. For example, say “I feel angry because …”. Using “I” avoids blaming anyone, and the other person is less likely to feel attacked.
Listen to the other person’s response. Listen. Don’t interrupt or start thinking about what you are going to say next. Keep it in the present. Acknowledge the other person’s response by repeating or paraphrasing what you heard. Doing this will help slow the exchange down and give you time to think.
Treat the other person with the same attention and respect that you want from them. But be prepared for the conversation to go wrong and try to spot when this is happening. If things get too heated, you might want to come back to the conversation another time.
6. Reframe the situation.
It’s easy to get caught up in all sorts of thinking about why something should or shouldn’t have happened, or fret about all the inconvenience and stress a situation is going to cause.
Your mind will lead you astray while your frustration, worry and anxiety, anger, and resentment intensify, causing more pain than the event that triggered it.
There’s a radical way to change this. In the words of Eckhart Tolle: “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”
What does that mean?
Well, suppose you were driving, and someone suddenly pulled out in front of you. You swerve and narrowly avoid a crash. You are furious with the other driver. However, if this had been a computer game, you would’ve chosen a situation that would challenge your driving skills. Instead of getting angry, you would’ve been pleased with yourself for using your skill to avoid a crash.
In Martine’s situation, she had decided to take the passport form to the post office specifically to be checked for mistakes. She had chosen this service. The problem was, she had forgotten there was a possibility that the form would not be accepted. If she had remembered, Martine would be far abler to accept the moment as if she had chosen it.
It takes some creative thinking – but reframing the situation in this way can transform your ability to manage your anger.
Remember – acceptance occurs when you recognize that what has happened cannot be changed. Nothing could change what Martine had done yesterday; she had incorrectly completed the passport form. Instead of wasting time being rude to the assistant, it would be more helpful if Martine asked for guidance on what exactly she needed to do to get it right. When you accept what is, you can begin to move forward.
Following these tips won’t mean you never get angry, but it should help you manage your anger mindfully and express your anger constructively. A mindful response can occur at the same time as an anger reaction, but the outcome will be different. You have a choice.