The idea behind this skill is to reduce the frequency and intensity of your anger by taking steps to reduce your vulnerability to it. Here, we focus on how you can do this by taking care of your physical needs. There are other ways to reduce your vulnerability to anger (e.g., by reducing your cognitive vulnerability and increasing your positive emotions), however, they will not be covered in depth in this course.
Taking care of your body
Our mind and body are connected in complex ways. If we neglect our bodies, we place ourselves at greater risk for intense emotions and poor emotion regulation. By taking care of our bodies, we can reduce our vulnerability to anger and its consequences and become more emotionally resilient. Have a think about a time when you were physically hungry, tired or in pain – were you more irritable and quicker to anger? Has your anger ever been linked to your use of substances? Many people become more likely to act on aggressive impulses when they drink alcohol or use drugs that lower their inhibition. Looking after your body can lower your baseline level of arousal, making difficult emotions easier to manage when they show up.
Here are some ideas for how you can better look after your body and be less prone to anger:
Manage illness and physical pain. Simply getting on top of physical illness and pain can help you manage your anger better. When our bodies are fighting illness, there are less resources for other things like emotion regulation. Physical pain is also linked to irritability and frustration, so it is important to do what you can to manage it effectively.
If you notice yourself becoming physically unwell, take some time out to rest and replenish your body. Make sure to fuel your body with the nutrients and fluids it needs. You may need to take some time off school/work and seek medical advice if necessary. For physical tension and stress, take time out for things that promote relaxation, including guided meditations, yoga or having a massage. Any prescribed medications should also be taken regularly.
Reduce drug and alcohol use. The things we put into our bodies can significantly impact how we feel. Substances including caffeine, prescription medications, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other illicit drugs can alter the nervous system, resulting in short- and longer-term effects on the body and mind. In the short term, these substances can lead people to feel better, either by increasing positive emotions (e.g., euphoria, optimism) or getting rid of unwanted ones (e.g., depression, anxiety, paranoia).
However, the longer-term effects can cause serious problems, including mental health concerns, addiction, legal or financial issues, and relationship problems. This is especially the case when substances cause people to act on their anger in unhelpful ways. The period after substance use can also cause irritability and make people more prone to anger. As such, it is important to limit your intake of alcohol and drugs where possible. Regarding medications, you should only take the type and dosage that is prescribed to you by a doctor.
Get adequate sleep. Getting enough sleep is essential for effective emotion regulation and maintaining optimal health. Sleep is necessary for the body to recuperate; if we don’t get enough sleep, we won’t have the energy or resources to effectively manage physical and emotional challenges throughout the day. If you’re like most people, you’ll likely have noticed that you’re more irritable and prone to problem anger after a poor night’s sleep. As such, ensuring that you get adequate sleep each night is an important part of reducing your vulnerability to anger. If you struggle with sleep, a quick Google search for ‘sleep hygiene’ will give you some ideas to help.
Eat a balanced diet. Like drugs and alcohol, what we put in our bodies affects how we feel. The same goes for the food we eat. There is growing research to support the link between diet and mental health. Related to anger, eating a healthy and balanced diet ensures that you have the energy required to deal with frustrations and challenges that occur throughout the day. Make sure you eat regular meals, avoid over- or under-eating, and focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, healthy fats (e.g., olive oil) and lean proteins. Limit the amount of sweets and sugary beverages that you consume each week.
Exercise regularly. In addition to its many health benefits, exercise is a great stress reduction technique. Think about a time when you were recently angry – did you notice a build-up of tension in your body afterwards? Exercise helps to release the energy that builds up in the body when we get angry. As such, it is a great way to ‘burn off’ the anger in a healthy way and prevent it from turning into chronic tension. Regular exercise has the benefit of reducing your overall level of arousal and vulnerability to anger and aggression.
As a general rule, guidelines suggest some form of moderate physical activity at least five days a week for approximately 30 minutes at a time. Shorter bursts of more vigorous activity are also acceptable. Even if you’ve never exercised before, there are things you can do to get started. For example, you could go for a short walk or engage in some light stretching. Slowly, you can build up to longer and more intense forms of exercise over time. Remember, any activity is better than no activity. We encourage you to seek medical advice before embarking on an exercise program, especially if you have any health complications.