This is a reprint of an answer to the above question I received on Quora.com.
This is an interesting question and two of the answers you received which suggest taking a deep breath are correct but limited.
The third answer suggesting that you won’t get angry as you mature is problematic as it doesn’t seem to understand what anger is and may perpetuate a myth that anger can (or even should) be eliminated. The answer, however, is correct, in noting that anger can be mitigated or, as I talk about, mastered by using your ability to think through what it is that is eliciting (not causing) your anger.
That being said, you have asked about two feelings: anger and frustration. While frustration can certainly lead to anger, these two are not the same.
The quick answer to your question is that when you experience either anger or frustration there are two physical actions you need to take. The order in which you take these first two actions is not important. That you do both is important.
The first action involves taking a step back from the situation and the second is to take a deep breath.
Taking a physical step back from the situation creates a physical space between you and the situation. This is particularly important if anger is the emotion you are dealing with because this step backwards creates some safety for you.
The second action (again, order is not critical) is to take a deep breath. The purpose of taking a deep breath is to create some psychological space between you and the situation.
The deep breath does this in two ways.
First of all, a deep breath is a natural relaxant. The deep breath can lead to you relaxing your muscles just enough so that you release some of the natural muscle tension that occurs when the emotional cycle (anger) prepares your body for war. The message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. Anger prepares you to attack and muscle tightening and a focusing of your attention on the “threat” occur without your having to think about them. Both of these reactions are mediated by the Limbic System in your brain.
Secondly, taking a deep breath provides some psychological space because it temporarily shifts your focus away from the threat. The purpose of creating psychological space is that it enables you to engage the thinking part of your brain (your cerebral cortex). Your cortex allows you to assess the nature of the threat and choose how you want to respond to it.
The emotion of frustration is different. The message of frustration is that a goal toward which you are moving has in some way been blocked. Put another way, your frustration is another way of saying “This (whatever the block is) should not be happening!”
With frustration, the same two steps of taking a physical step back and a deep breath are also appropriate. The step back from the situation which is blocking you isn’t for safety but to reinforce the deep breath which prepares you to think about what is going on, assess it, and choose what you want to do to correct it, learn from it, and move past it.
I have written two books dealing with mastering emotions as tools both of which are available on Amazon. The first is Emotions as Tools and the second is Beyond Anger Mastery.
The focus of both books is that all emotions can be viewed as tools which, just like your cell phone, computer, TV remote or fancy sewing machine, can be understood and mastered so they work better for you.
Emotional mastery involves understanding that:
- each emotion both communicates how you perceive your current situation and prepares your body to deal with it. This is the message of the emotion which I’ve discussed above.
- the initial perception of the situation and the initial message may not match what is actually going on
- with each emotion, you need to assess the match between what is actually going on and your initial perception the message of the emotion, which I’ve given you above, and
- you need to choose a response that fits what is actually taking place
So, Madhura, when you experience either anger or frustration, the “sensible things” are physical and mental. Physically, you need to take a step back from the situation and take a deep breath. Mentally, you need to assess your situation and choose an effective response.
Finally, let me address the third answer about anger.
While it may be true that as we mature, we are less likely to get angry, the reason for this is that maturity changes the way we perceive threat. Less threat leads to less anger. It is important to note that anger is always appropriate when we are threatened regardless of age or gender. Consequently, maturity should lead to more focused and strategically applied anger not necessarily less anger. The myth that many people believe is that anger is somehow bad and should be minimized. This myth disempowers women in particular (“Women should not get angry. it isn’t feminine.”) and older people (“An older person who gets angry is just being crotchety.”)
It is quite likely that this is not what the respondent meant but I wanted to clear up any implication that might be made from his answer.