How to Decrease Reactive Anger and Impulsivity
I was speaking this past week to several people who messaged me from a few Facebook pages. Many of them described their anger as immediate and uncontrollable, as if their anger goes from 0 to 100 immediately. This is likely true in some instances, but most people are not aware that their body is often telling them that they are angry even prior to acting. Some examples of these internal cues are increased heart rate, muscle tension, sweating, crying for some, headaches, and dizziness. If we can become aware of the physiological effects of anger then we can begin to learn to be less reactive.
One of the most effective ways to identify the effect anger has on our body is through a technique called progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). PMR involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups so that we can realize the difference between our body’s response when we are angry and when we are relaxed. It also involves practicing deep breathing when we are relaxed so that we can decrease our physiological arousal. With practice, this technique is really helpful for reducing impulsive behavior.
It is especially helpful if used in conjunction with other skills. For example, if we are feeling angry, let’s use PMR to decrease our arousal, then challenge our thoughts and create more rational thoughts, and then engage in a more helpful behavior, such as being assertive.
Take a look at the five-minute video below made by my colleague Dr. Michael Lent. I invite you to set aside time and practice PMR everyday for the next week. See if you notice a difference, but be sure to have reasonable expectations. It isn’t reasonable to expect that you will be able to control your anger every single time, but you may become aware of your anger sooner or regulate it more quickly now. The more we practice this skill, the better it becomes. If you find this to be repeatedly challenging and you’re not making the progress you would like, then I would encourage you to reach out to a professional.