Transforming anger into productive action

by | November 2018


Anger and irritation are a completely normal part of the range of human emotions. They alert us that something is wrong – perhaps we feel threatened, or we see a personal value we strongly believe in being broken by another, or we are afraid. And while it is perfectly normal to sometimes feel irritation and anger, if we don’t know how to understand and look after these emotions productively, we can get carried away by them, they can become habitual, and we can act in ways that are harmful to ourselves and others.

When we are angry certain physical changes occur – heart rate and blood pressure increase, stress hormones are released, muscles tense. We can learn to identify our own particular markers of anger, and then learn techniques to calm the storm before we are swept away. For example, deepening and slowing the breath as you focus on it, or progressive muscle relaxation can help the wave of anger pass, so we can better understand what is occurring and how best to work creatively and productively with the situation.



  • Take a moment to think about what makes you angry. Write it down if you find that helpful. Then ask yourself: how do I need to change/ what do I need to do that means I can become stronger and perhaps more compassionate, rather than angrier. Plus, how can I respond in a way that new opportunities are created, rather than the same old pathways reinforced? If you wish, talk through your ideas with a close friend.
  • Next time you feel yourself becoming angry, see if you can note the physical changes. Does your breath-rate change? Do your muscles tense? By becoming aware of your breath, and then deepening and slowing it, see if you can reverse the physical changes and relax your body. What happens to your feeling of anger when you do this?



How to make peace? Get angry
In this wonderful talk, Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, urges us to become angry – to become angry at the injustice and suffering we see around us. He says, for him, change begins with anger, moves to an idea, which then becomes action. Anger, in the presence of our inherent compassion, brings us into connection with the world and moves us to bring about change.

Anger, Compassion, and What It Means To Be Strong
Russell Kolts, clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Eastern Washington University, talks about the nature of anger, and the ways he discovered to transform his own anger into strength.

Fighting with nonviolence
Scilla Elworthy, three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, asks the question “how do we deal with violence without using force in return?” Her answers include the importance of building inner power through self-knowledge, transforming our fear, and using our anger as fuel for action.

The danger of a single story
I have added a fourth video this month as I found this talk inspiring. The novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks of the danger of having just a single story of group of people – just one perspective. The single perspective can allow us to feel better than. Listen to Chimamanda talk eloquently of the importance of remaining curious so our stories of others are rich and nuanced, and open us to seeing our shared humanity.


Managing your Anger
From the Australian Psychological Society, some very useful tips on ways to work with your anger.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication
Nonviolent communication, founded by Marshall Rosenberg, is based on the principles of nonviolence. This link gives a quick summary of its principles.

How anger changes the brain
If you’re curious what happens in the brain when we get angry, this article reports on some recent research that shows anger builds on itself. When we get angry, we increase the number of nerve cells that are related to anger (well, this happens in mice, and so probably in humans).