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How to control anger – use your brain to cool down

The German army won’t let a soldier tile a complaint and, make a criticism immediately after a thing has happened. He has to sleep on his grudge first and cool off. If he files his complaint immediately, he is punished. By the eternals, there ought to be a law like that in civil life too – a law for whining parents and nagging wives and scolding employers and the whole obnoxious parade of fault finders.

Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People

It isn’t easy to control anger, but we know that it is not good to engage in discussions while our emotions are riled up.  You’ve probably given this advice to your friends! But, when we get upset, we often struggle to control anger.  

A particularly challenging time is when we disagree with someone else’s opinion. We want others to recognize our point of view. We defend our argument with passion and get worked up when we find resistance. Often, we push until one person in the debate finally gives up, but usually not until we have pushed it too far.  We can get angry and defend our point of view while offended and say things we later regret. Is it worth it to be right if it hurts your friends?

If we control anger successfully, you won’t feel the need to deny the other person’s argument and will be more likely to influence the other person’s thinking.  It is more comfortable in this state to learn from each other, and have a productive and cooperative discussion. This can help you to forge new friendships instead of upsetting current ones.

Taking the time to cool down is a difficult lesson to put into practice. When our anger is present, the amygdala reacts without really giving you enough time and space to think clearly.

How to control anger? Take the time to cool down your mind.

Use these two tips to your advantage to learn to control anger. As soon as you realize you’re getting upset, don’t push the conversation and do one of these instead. Later, you can come back to this.

  • Option 1: challenge your brain to think. Your emotional responses, such as anger, are triggered by the amygdala. The amygdala is a part of your brain that’s very primitive; think of it as the “lizard’s brain.” We’ve talked about it when discussing how to control our emotions. Very emotional, not the smartest. When the amygdala is triggered, it puts you in a “fight or flight” mode that is rarely productive unless you must fight. You can take power off the amygdala, and cool it down, by directing your energy to the smarter side of your brain. To do this, force your mind to reason! Try to solve a puzzle, think of a complex problem, do some math. Anything that requires you to stop and think carefully. This will help you avoid anger while solving a problem, which is doubly productive!
  • Option 2: Take a nap or a full night’s sleep. If you’re angry, don’t keep thinking about the same things. Give your mind a break. Get some rest and create some distance from the problem. You can repeat to yourself, “I’m sleepy,” over and over as a mantra. Or use any other technique to distract your mind and fall asleep – maybe read a scientific paper? If you do this, chances are you’ll fall asleep. After having slept, your mind will be clearer and more rational.

Next time you start feeling that you need to control your emotions, take a break, and wait until the feelings dissipate.  It’s an exercise of self-control that will help you preserve good relationships and solve problems better over the long term.

Last Updated on August 22, 2020 by Omar Eduardo

6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. So true! Taking time to cool off is almost always a good idea, both in personal and professional relationships. Whenever I find myself frustrated with a co-worker, I try to wait at least a half hour before confronting them. It often turns out that the whole incident was based on a misunderstanding in the first place. How do you deal with situations in which you can't take time to cool down (or solve a chemistry problem :))?

    1. Thanks for your input, Jeffrey! Very good question. What I do is to try and keep myself emotionally distant from the problem. Just try to keep in mind that, even if the other person is being very emotional about the subject, the outcome of the conversation is probably of very little importance in the great scheme of things. I once found myself almost arguing with someone else about such a thing as wether two Japanese phrases were equivalent or not, and although I, in my head, was sure I was right, I noticed he was quite stubborn about his point of view and simply said: “You’re probably right, never mind” to which he replied with something along the lines of “I’m always right.” I found the incidence all the more amusing because this was a student who was not really doing well in the class, but had I kept arguing with him I would have only wasted my time. It was difficult, I must say, to simply give him the credit, but it was a good exercise of not allowing my ‘ego’ to interfere with my day. Mm… there is definitely a lot to talk about when it comes down to the ‘ego’ and your happiness. “A New Earth” devotes a lot of time to the discussion of the ego and how to not let it take over you, definitely a must read!

  2. Hi Omar, I totally agree with the idea of taking time to cool off. I don't always do it, but I agree with it!Funny what you say about doing a math problem. Google Mail has a feature, where, to prevent you from sending incoherent emails late at night, it makes you do a simple math problem before pressing the SEND button. If you can't solve the problem, it won't send the mail because you're too tired to be working and your email probably doesn't make sense.

    1. Hello Kaizan! Thanks so much for sharing your opinion. ~ I think the Google Mail feature is quite a nice addition… I have sent a few e-mails myself that I’ve then read in the morning just to realize they made little sense or had huge number of spelling mistakes!

  3. Now this is something that I absolutely agree with. Seems you're a student of the great Mr Carnegie. I loved his book so much that I bought it in Spanish too.I think that you're right – institutions should teach this kind of stuff ;)Anyway, I absolutely resonate with this. So many times we do things in the heat of the moment as the ego takes control.I can't count the times I've done something without thinking, only to feel indifference after just an hour or so.Thanks for the great post, I'll be reading more of this blog 🙂

    1. Welcome Clement! I’m glad you have read Dale Carnegie’s book, I devoured that book and often go back to read some highlights I made while reading. It’s a book I would recommend anyone to read, even though it was first published over 70 years ago the content is just as relevant today!You bought the book in Spanish as well? I know my parents have a copy of the book in Spanish, but I read it in English. I wonder which version is easier to follow, sometimes translations don’t carry the voice of the author, in my opinion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I hope you keep enjoying the content I post in this blog. ~

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