7 Steps to Help You Deal with Anger After 60
Anger is natural, but when it builds up in us, it can be incapacitating, causing us to lash out at others, or lash out at ourselves and lead to depression.
When anger threatens to overwhelm your day, here’s a way you can shift your mood and carry on, without telling yourself that you, “shouldn’t feel angry.”
Growing up in the 50s, I heard the subtle – and sometimes not-so-subtle – message: “Nice girls shouldn’t be angry.” I learned to swallow my anger and allow it to rest, like bile, inside of me.
Anger and outrage aren’t bad – in fact, at times, they’re appropriate. Violence against women and girls should make us angry. But let’s use our anger to act, not stockpile it in our guts.
The approach that follows isn’t an alternative to therapy, so please reach out for help if you feel chronically angry or debilitated. Your anger may be suggesting that you need to make a change. But, if you want an occasional way to clear your mind and reset your mood, try this 10-minute process.
A Technique That Can Shift an Angry Mood
Telling our minds what to do is futile when anger has embedded itself in our bodies. Mandating, “You don’t need to be angry” when you are seething, can make you feel worse.
Instead, try working with your body. This method can help you shift your mood, and clear your thinking, without suppressing your feelings of anger. Practicing it will make listening to your body come much easier. You can also check out related work on Focusing on Anne Weiser Cornell’s website.
Here’s a recent example of my own experience: A client decided not to proceed with a workshop I’d planned to offer, saying it was a result of company changes, not a reflection on my work.
My mind tried to say, “It’s OK. Hopefully, they’ll pick another date in the future.” But my body wasn’t buying it. I was mad. The feelings began percolating through my gut, my chest, and my throat.
After using this method for just 10 minutes, I relaxed and began to imagine new possibilities. I realized that I needed to thank my client, and invite them to offer a workshop in the future. I realized that I’m as valuable as ever despite this temporary setback.
This 7-step technique helped me to shift my mood by using a dialogue with my body. If speaking with your body feels strange to you at first, just try it and keep practicing. You’ll become more fluent and able to tap this wonderfully powerful approach.
Step One: Let the Angry Words Unfold Your Real Feelings
Acknowledge and speak what you’re feeling without inhibition – assuming you’re alone. Skip the critic and let the words fly: “It’s not fair.” “This really (add your own expletives).” “I’m so mad!!!”
Don’t sugar-coat your conversation! You want to notice what feelings you’re holding rather than push them away.
Step Two: Sit Quietly and Notice What Your Body Is Feeling
Let yourself breathe, and notice where and how you feel anger in your body. “My chest is tight.” “I’m holding my breath.” “My throat feels choked up.”
Step Three: Ask Questions to Learn How Your Body Experiences the Emotion
Dig deeper. Allow the Observer part of you to talk with the different parts of your body that are holding your anger. Use compassion, not judgment.
Observer: “Hi there, throat. Sorry you’re hurting. Tell me more about what you are experiencing. Do you see a form or a color? Is it moving? What does it feel like physically to you?”
Throat (i.e., you feeling your throat): “I feel tight. It feels like there’s a lock inside of me. The color is orange. I feel like there’s a big orange ball pressing on me. I’m choking.”
Encourage sensory observations. Instead of saying, “I’m feeling sad,” probe a bit more into the physical sensations, such as: “I feel a ball of fire in my belly” or “I feel tears in my throat.”
Step Four: Have Compassion
Continue to notice all the places you feel tension or obvious emotion in the body. You may want to put a gentle hand on that area to give it some friendly support. As information is revealed, your Observer can tell that part of your body – typically your heart, your chest, your shoulders or anywhere you tend to store emotion – “I understand.”
If tears or other expressions of feelings come up, just allow them to flow, with that same compassionate, “I understand.”
Step Five: Breathe and Let the Feelings Shift
Without trying to change or judge, allow your breath to flow through the areas in your body that have been feeling hurting or stuck.
Your Observer-self can continue to ask questions, such as “What are you feeling now?” or “Has anything changed?” or “What is the color you see now?” Be curious and compassionate.
Step Six: Give Thanks for Whatever You Learn or Experience
Chances are, you will begin to feel changes in your body, perhaps deeper breathing, or a loosening where you’ve been holding tightness. Be grateful. Thank your body for sharing information.
Step Seven: Think and Decide What to Do
Hopefully, now you feel like you can ‘have’ your anger without the anger ‘having you.’ It doesn’t have to run your day.
When you feel fully connected to your body, and are breathing easily and beginning to relax, you can ask, “What is true about the situation?” and/or “Is there anything I need to do?” Your wise thinking, the kind that is informed by the body but not driven by reaction, can now guide your actions.
Just remember, we can’t suppress our anger without suppressing its emotional cousin, passion. By shifting our moods, without suppressing our feelings, we’ll be better able to enjoy the vibrant, passionate lives we’re seeking after 60.
How do you manage your anger? Have you found ways to make your anger recede without leaving you emotionally scarred? Please share your anger management techniques in the comments below.
Sally Fox, Ph.D., is an author, podcaster, consultant and coach who helps businesses and individuals shape and tell their best stories. Her passion is to show how working creatively after 60 is key to thriving and helps others find and follow their callings. She also loves Zumba and horses!