Tuesday, December 21, 2010

OK I'm Angry So Now What? (Learning Relaxation)

relax time

Image by Xavier Fargas via Flickr

Once a person has recognized their triggers and signals, what does he/she do next?  I have previously posted on the Biology of Anger here.  In short it difficult to overcome biology.  When you are angry your fight or flight response needs to be quieted.  This is primarily accomplished through relaxation (see here for some ideas).

Relaxation and intense anger are incompatible states.  The idea is to become so good at relaxation that you can sort of turn it on.  Some people mistake relaxation to be an event.  For example: "I can't wait for the weekend so I can relax."  or "I will finally be able to relax on vacation."  or "When I lay down I can relax."  The problem with this view is that relaxation is tied to your external circumstances.  Relaxation is not of any particular use if you are angry about your situation.  The situation is not relaxing by definition.  However, relaxation is not an event.  It is a skill and a state of mind. 

I don't say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
Philippians 4:11 (HCSB)

Contentment is relaxation of the soul.  If Paul has learned how to be content in whatever circumstances he is in the I firmly believe that we can do the same. 

Start with relaxing the body.  There are many strategies for relaxation.  I have written about a few that I have used with people in my counseling practice.  Here are a few more ideas.  The goal is to find one that works for you and practice it every day. 

By practicing it everyday you accomplish at least three things. 

First you learn to recognize tension.  by recognizing the difference between a relaxed and tense state you can add this to your awareness of signals for anger. 

Second you lower your set level of tension.  We all have a general level of tension in our day to day life.  Some people's level is higher and others lower.  By lowering you set level of tension you give yourself more room to respond over reacting.  Think of it this way if you are already highly tense then it will not take much additional stress from your circumstance to push you into a negative reaction.  But if you are lower in tension from practicing relaxation then it will take more stress to push you to a negative reaction, which will give you more time to effectively respond. 

The third thing that practicing relaxation accomplishes is that you get better at it.  Think of an activity that you get better at with more practice.  The same is true for relaxation.  In fact the better you get at relaxation the more effectively you can use it in a tense moment. 

I have had people tell me in counseling, "I have tried those relaxation strategies and they do not work for me."   When I ask them when the tried it they respond, "When I got angry of course."  There is a problem in this thinking.  If you are a basketball player and the only time you take shots at the basket is during a basketball game you are not going to me a good basketball player.  To be good at something takes practice.  Some activities take a lot of consistent practice.  Relaxation is one of those activities in my opinion. 

Practicing relaxation has many health benefits as well.  Give it a try.  Notice the sense of well-being that comes through effectively relaxing. 

God Bless You

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