Whether in response to a comment made in conversation, an inconsiderate move by another driver on the road, or a comment thread on social media, when anger arises there are specific areas of the brain being activated. Concurrently, there are many areas of the body that experiencing stress in response to our anger. How exactly does anger affect us on a physiological level?
It's important to understand if you live in a body, and this fantastic infographic lays it out beautifully:
This is how anger affects your brain and body
Every one of us has the ability to create an easy-to-see model of the brain using just our own body. Pretty cool, huh? To see how to do that (and for a great way to explain how the brain works to your kids), check out this short video:
The Brain Hand Model by Dan Siegel
And for a really useful and funny explanation of what happens when we "flip our lid", watch this short video:
Flipping Your Lid by Dan Siegel
Once we've activated an anger or startle response, our bodies can continue to produce excess cortisol for up to 4 hours after the event, however brief it was. That's if we're not also stewing and brewing over the event in our minds - if we're replaying negative events and emotions, we can certainly keep our bodies stressed for weeks, months, or years after an event! It becomes important self-care for us to recognize when we're activated, and to bring in relief that our physiology can make use of, as soon as possible. What can that look like?
Lengthening our exhales slightly gives our nervous system the message that we are calm. We can do this gently in a conscious way to reverse-engineer a sense of calm after an anger event. If we're speaking with others and can take a break, we might step away and take some slow breaths, allowing the exhales to extend slightly longer than the inhales. To shift our state, it's helpful to do any conscious breathing exercise for at least 2 minutes. If we're talking with others and cannot step away or leave the conversation, we can begin to slow down and lengthen our sentences, speaking more slowly while also breathing more slowly. This has a potential added benefit of entraining others into slower breathing and also encourages them to listen more closely to what we're saying.
If we have some moments to sit or lie quietly just after we've noticed that we've been activated, this guided meditation can help us shift our focus to other experiences within the body, inducing calm and ease:
Meditation for Squirrely Minds - Enhancing Ease
And, to learn a practice that you can use in future moments of agitation and activation, this guided meditation teaches a practice that I have found to be extremely useful for many of my clients. It takes a little time to learn, so start your practice now and be ready to help yourself the next time somebody really gets your goat:
A Guided Meditation for Slowing and Calming
The trick with any of these is to put them to use as soon as possible once you've noticed your temperature rising. Or your fists clenching. Or your obscenities hurling. Whatever your cue is, when you notice it, act in the other direction to support your brain in coming back online and to support your body in regulating itself. It's important work these days, and I hope some of these tools prove useful to you. Let me know how it goes for you!
If you're interested in deepening your practice, contact me today to learn more about how yoga and meditation can support you in navigating stressful times, and enhancing the well-being of your whole self.
Breathe deeply, practice often, be well
Dana Wyss Healing Arts