Anger, although a natural phenomenon, has become a problem for many of us. It’s common to see people shouting at buses and traffic jams. Several anger-management techniques are there to help us cope with this seemingly uncontrollable emotion, and research reveals that meditation makes us calmer and more composed. In this article, we’ll discuss how meditation reduces anger.
Studies show that meditation reduces the body’s physical response to negative emotions like anger. Regular meditation also makes us more mindful, and we’re able to recognize anger without acting on it. This allows us to respond mindfully, expressing our anger in healthy ways instead of bursting out.
Read on to gain a better understanding of anger and how meditation can help you deal with it. We’ll also discuss two meditation techniques to help you get started with your practice.
Anger is a natural emotion, a tool to help us survive and protect ourselves from danger or wrongdoings. Mild anger is usually not a problem, but it often takes the form of intense fury. Many people struggle to control their temper, and it becomes an embarrassing issue for them.
Anger also has an immense impact on our bodies. When we rage, our blood pressure increases, breathing, and heart rate become rapid, the muscles tighten, and the body releases the stress hormone called cortisol into our system, activating the “fight or flight” mode. People who are easily angered are also at a higher risk of developing hypertension or coronary heart diseases. (1)
Like any other emotion, suppressing anger isn’t the solution. It’s a part of us, and we can be in control of it. It’s helpful to think of it as fleeting energy. Anger can actually be a healthy emotion if we channel it appropriately.
How meditation helps you deal with anger
Most of us realize that we’ve said or done too much in the heat of the moment after it’s all over. If we could realize this before giving in to anger, we would be able to control ourselves.
That’s exactly what meditation teaches us to do. With mindfulness, we’re able to catch our anger before bursting out. It helps us become aware of our feelings and gives us the power of attention.
When we notice anger rising within us, we can dissolve it just by watching it. Usually, our attention is focused on the external factor that made us angry. If we shift our awareness from the object of anger to anger itself, it starts dissipating, and we regain our peace.
Also, the pace of our breath tells us how calm or agitated we are at any moment. When we’re angry, our breath becomes shallow and rapid. So if anger boils up within us, we can release it by breathing out fully and slowly. Focusing our attention on the breath and exhaling deeply allows the body to relax. By continuing to exhale, anger fades away in a few moments.
Scientific research on meditation and anger
A 2016 study revealed that a single meditation session reduces your body’s response to anger. This is true for new and experienced meditators both. (2)
The research included 15 people who had never meditated before and 12 experienced meditators. Both groups were asked to relive anger-inducing situations in their head.
Usually, getting angry makes us stressed. The body reacts to this stress by shallow, fast breathing, increased heart rate, and higher blood pressure. The people who had never meditated before showed all these physical signs of anger. But after meditating for only 20 minutes, they had a much more relaxed and calmer response to anger.
Experienced meditators didn’t have much of a physical reaction in the first place. When thinking about an angry experience, their blood pressure, heart rate, etc. remained relaxed, both before and after meditation.
The research suggests that regular practice of meditation improves our ability to cope with negative emotions like anger without reacting. Whether short-term or long-term, meditation protects our body and mind from the harmful physical stress of anger.
Another study reveals that an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program decreases suppression and aggressive expression of anger. (3)
Breath-focused meditation is one of the simplest yet most effective techniques of mindfulness meditation. It involves watching your breath while sitting perfectly still.
Here’s how you do it:
- Use your phone or timer to set aside 10-15 minutes.
- Sit cross-legged on the ground. Sitting cross-legged is the best posture for meditation, though you can also sit on a chair.
- Rest your hands in your lap and keep your back straight. Make sure you’re looking straight ahead.
- Close your eyes and relax. You can also keep them slightly open, but it’s easier to concentrate when they are closed.
- Take a few deep breaths from your belly to settle in. Relax your body but maintain the posture.
- Now, let the body breathe on its own. Just watch it. Notice the sensations in your nostrils or the rise and fall of your belly button.
- When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. You’ll only be able to watch the breath for a few seconds before you drift away into thinking. That’s perfectly normal.
For more detailed instructions with tips, read the complete guide to mindfulness meditation.
Loving-kindness meditation is an ancient Buddhist technique. Loving-kindness means a sense of friendliness and compassion toward ourselves and others. It’s designed to help us overcome anger, bitterness, and hate by cultivating feelings of compassion for everyone.
Here’s how you practice it:
- Set aside some time for yourself and sit in the posture described above.
- Take a few deep breaths and relax.
- Cultivate loving-kindness toward yourself. Repeat a few positive phrases to yourself, such as:
- May I be well
- May I be happy
- May I be healthy
- May I be free from suffering
- Feel compassion for yourself and focus on the feeling of loving-kindness for a few minutes.
- Then, repeat the process for a loved one, such as your child or your pet, and wish them well. Radiate heartfelt compassion for them.
- Now, cultivate loving-kindness toward a stranger or someone you’re indifferent to. Wish them well in the same way and feel the compassion radiating from you.
- Here’s the difficult part: cultivate compassion for someone you have long-standing conflicts with or someone who annoys you. Imagine the enmity dissolving and becoming friends with that person. Radiate loving-kindness for them and wish them well.
- Finally, repeat the process for all sentient beings including all plants and animals.
To read why you should cultivate loving-kindness for “bad” people and learn the ins and outs of this practice, along with its many benefits, read the full article on loving-kindness meditation.
I highly recommend you practice both these forms of meditation. Loving-kindness will make you kinder and more empathetic, while breath meditation will develop your mindfulness.
Our typical reaction to anger is to give in to it and act it out, through speech or action. Meditation changes this reactive mindset into a responsive one. It creates a gap between emotion and action, allowing us to choose our response mindfully.
Research has shown that meditation is an effective tool to help us deal with issues like anger, stress, and anxiety. The scientific studies may not be as conclusive as we would like them to be, but they do suggest that we should consider trying meditation.
I hope this article inspired you to start your meditation journey if you haven’t already. Good luck and happy meditating.