Breathe, Don’t Vent: The Science Behind Cooling Off Anger

March 27th, 2024

By John Patterson

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

In a society that often romanticizes the cathartic release of “blowing off steam” when angered, a groundbreaking study begs to differ. The research, led by Sophie Kjærvik and senior author Brad Bushman, reveals that traditional methods of venting anger might not be as effective as we’ve believed. Instead, embracing activities that reduce physiological arousal—such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and meditation—is key to tempering rage.

Understanding the Heat Behind Anger

The study, published in the Clinical Psychology Review, delves into over 150 studies involving more than 10,000 participants. This meta-analytic review sheds light on how to manage anger mechanisms. According to Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at The Ohio State University, “Venting anger might sound like a good idea, but there’s not a shred of scientific evidence to support catharsis theory.”

Their findings are simple yet profound: reducing physiological arousal is essential to managing anger effectively. Activities that elevate arousal, such as jogging, were found to exacerbate feelings of anger, contrary to popular belief potentially.

The Misconception of Venting

The allure of venting as a means to manage anger is a widely accepted notion. From rage rooms designed for smashing objects to the advice of letting out one’s anger through physical exertion, society has embraced the idea that expression equals relief. However, this study challenges these conventions by demonstrating that such activities do not necessarily aid in reducing anger. Instead, they may fuel the fire of rage by increasing physiological arousal.

Sophie Kjærvik, now a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University, aims to debunk the theory that expressing anger is a coping mechanism. She highlights the importance of addressing the physiological aspects of anger management.

Effective Strategies for Anger Management

The research highlights several arousal-decreasing activities that mitigate anger across various settings and populations. These include:

Interestingly, the study found that even activities such as relaxation and progressive muscle relaxation could be as beneficial as mindfulness and meditation in managing anger. This revelation underscores the diversity of effective strategies available to individuals seeking to temper their rage.

The Role of Physical Activity in Managing Anger

While certain physical activities like jogging may increase arousal and anger, the study notes that not all physical exertion is counterproductive. Activities incorporating an element of play, such as physical education classes and ball sports, were observed to have an arousal-decreasing effect. This suggests that the context and nature of the physical activity play a significant role in its impact on anger management.

Accessibility of Anger Management Tools

One of the most encouraging aspects of this research is the accessibility of effective anger management strategies. Many of the arousal-decreasing interventions identified can be practiced freely or at a minimal cost, making them accessible to a wide audience. “You don’t need to necessarily book an appointment with a cognitive behavioral therapist to deal with anger,” Kjærvik notes, highlighting the availability of free apps and online resources.

Choosing Calm Over Chaos

This study powerfully reminds us of the importance of choosing calming strategies over venting in managing anger. By focusing on reducing physiological arousal, individuals can effectively temper their rage, fostering a more peaceful and productive approach to dealing with anger. As we navigate the stresses of modern life, the insights from this research offer valuable guidance on cultivating tranquility in the face of anger.

Practical Tips for Implementing Anger Management Techniques

In light of the compelling findings from the study, incorporating calming practices into daily routines can serve as a powerful tool in managing anger more effectively. Here are practical tips to help readers integrate these strategies into their lives:

Start with Deep Breathing

  • Practice Regularly: Dedicate a few minutes each day to practice deep breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose, hold for a few seconds and exhale slowly through your mouth. This can be done anywhere and anytime you feel anger rising.

Embrace Mindfulness and Meditation

  • Begin with Guided Sessions: Use apps or online resources to find guided meditation sessions that appeal to you. Starting with just 5-10 minutes a day can make a significant difference.
  • Mindful Moments: Try incorporating mindfulness into everyday activities, such as eating, walking, or even during work breaks. Focus fully on the task at hand and observe all the sensations and experiences involved.

Explore Yoga and Relaxation Techniques

  • Find a Suitable Style: Explore different styles of yoga to find one that suits your preference and level of physical activity. Slow flow or restorative yoga can be particularly calming.
  • Schedule Time for Relaxation: Block out time in your schedule specifically for relaxation practices, treating them as important appointments with yourself.

Engage in Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  • Learn the Technique: Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body. Look for tutorials or guides to learn the proper technique.
  • Incorporate it into Your Routine: Like deep breathing, this can be done before bed or during moments of stress to help manage anger and stress.

Take Strategic Timeouts

  • Recognize the Signs: Learn to recognize the early signs of anger in yourself and decide in advance to take a timeout when they appear.
  • Designate a Calm Space: Identify a place where you can go to cool down and reflect. This could be a specific room, a bench in a park, or any place where you feel safe and calm.

Leverage Technology and Resources

  • Utilize Apps: Many free and paid apps are designed to help with breathing techniques, meditation, and stress management.
  • Educational Resources: Look for online courses or workshops on anger management and emotional regulation to deepen your understanding and toolkit for managing emotions.

Implementing these tips can help you experience reduced anger and improved emotional well-being. Remember, the journey to managing anger is personal, and it is important to find the techniques that work best for you.

Journal Reference:

  1. Sophie Lyngesen Kjærvik, Brad J. Bushman. A meta-analytic review of anger management activities that increase or decrease arousal: What fuels or douses rage? Clinical Psychology Review, 2024; 102414 DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2024.102414

About the author:

John Patterson is an avid writer and researcher who delves into the latest scientific research. With an insatiable curiosity, he translates complex concepts into accessible narratives, allowing readers to embark on a journey of discovery. John bridges the gap between experts and the public through his work, igniting curiosity and inspiring meaningful conversations about scientific breakthroughs.

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