Anger is a basic human emotion.  But anger can easily become toxic to our health and damaging to our relationships unless it is effectively managed and healthily communicated.  Most of us lack these critical skills.  But the good news is these are skills that can be learned.

Learning how to manage and communicate anger, can save your relationships– with your spouse, child, parent, or close friend.  And it can literally save your life.

When anger is not processed and expressed constructively, it can get internalized.  And when anger is kept in, it can turn into depression and lead to serious physical illnesses.  These include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, ulcers, and chronic pain.

Anger that gets kept in simmers just below the surface and it doesn’t take much to blow up.  Likewise, anger can manifest as passive-aggressive behavior that includes belittling, nastiness, rudeness, or being overly critical of others.

None of this bodes well for our close relationships or physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being.  Below are 3 steps to prevent anger from jeopardizing your health and relationships:

1.        Focus on the outcome you want.

Let’s say, for example, you want a closer, more loving relationship with your spouse.  By focusing on this outcome daily, you become less reactive to what your spouse does or doesn’t do.

2.        Stop and breathe.

The first thing to do is to calm your emotional reaction so you can see things rationally. Lashing back would be like pouring gasoline on a fire.

But if your response is calm and intentional, you can literally change the course of the conversation into a productive exchange where you feel heard and understood and feel a greater sense of compassion.

So, first, notice when your anger slowly starts to build.  You feel your blood temperature start to rise.  What we do in that moment can mean the difference between a productive conversation and a full-on heated confrontation or argument.

You might imagine a big stop sign.  Then take one to three slow breaths.  Or count backward from 5 to 1, described as the 5 Second Rule.  Another very helpful trick to calm your emotions is this yoga breathing method.

3.        Rationalize.

Recognize that as humans, we are all just trying to do the best we can.   As the poet and author Maya Angelou once said, “when you know better, you do better.”   Accepting the truth of someone’s limitations can be very liberating.

Over time, you can actually change the way your brain responds to emotional triggers in the future.  And it can literally save your important relationships and your health.

For more tips on responding productively in the heat of an argument, check out this post.

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