Anger management

Turning anger and frustration into purpose and motivation

Anger and frustration are emotions commonly linked with the season of Spring. As we observe seeds that lie underground start to spring into life, putting down new roots and pushing upwards and outwards, we may also start to notice some weeds appearing amongst the flowers that need our attention (in our lives as well as in our gardens!).

In traditional Chinese medicine, anger is associated with the liver, whilst its right hand man, the gallbladder, is linked to the smaller fires of frustration and irritation. Anger is a powerful energy, that can often feel overwhelming. A burning, bubbling heat that fills us with an uncontrollable urge to shout, scream, cry and destroy anything in our path. Meanwhile frustration can leave us feeling like a coiled spring, full of unexpressed energy that needs somewhere to go.

These strong emotions are often associated with violence and destruction, but when we are able to find balance, listen to them and direct their energy in a more controlled manner, they can be powerful regenerative forces in our lives. Like the new growth, pushing its way through the earth, the energy of anger and frustration can give us the dynamic push we need to spring into action and create change in our lives.

Here are 10 tips to help you turn anger and frustration into purpose and motivation:

1. Harness the fire

Anger is often compared to fire and it’s easy to see why.

Like fire, when anger is used carelessly or with violent intentions it can spread and grow uncontrollably, creating a lot of destruction and suffering. When used consciously though, it can be a powerful and creative force.

Spring bonfires help us clear out things we no longer need to create space for new growth. In traditional mythology and religious texts, spring time is often linked with themes of ashes and resurrection. New life emerging from the ashes of the old. Fire is also an excellent source of energy which can be used to illuminate, create or power new projects.

When balanced with the liver’s qualities of clear vision, conviction and insight, anger can be transformed into a powerful sense of purpose.

Likewise, frustration and irritation, when balanced with the gallbladder’s qualities of decisiveness, resolution, perspective and courage, can be an excellent motivating force for positive action.  This energy can help us to spring into action, start projects we’ve been meaning to start, do jobs we’ve been putting off or finally take action on the positive changes we want to see in the world.

2. Listen out for feelings and needs

Anger is a powerful alarm clock that tells us something is not quite right and needs our attention. Very few of us take time to really listen to what our anger is trying to tell us though.

Marshall Rosenburg, author of many books on ‘non-violent communication’, writes that ‘at the core of our anger is a need not being fulfilled’.

When we feel angry, it is very easy to get lost in the story. ‘They made me angry’, ‘I’m angry because you….’. By repeatedly telling ourselves stories of other people’s wrongness, we feed the flames of the rage inside us. They are mean, evil, sexist, racist, cruel, stupid…’ the list goes on. ‘They made us suffer, therefore they deserve to suffer’. It’s easy to see how this way of thinking can lead to violence.

Whether or not these judgements are accurate doesn’t matter.  No other person can ever truly make us feel anything. People and situations can definitely be the stimulus for our anger, frustration or suffering, but they are never fully the cause. For true anger to ignite, the situation has to produce a spark of emotion within us, which is most commonly the result of an unmet need. This could be anything, from the need for safety, the need for connection, the need for significance to the need for fun and freedom.

As way of an example; imagine two men are in line at a local sandwich shop. One man is in a terrible hurry and needs to get his sandwich quickly so he can get to where he needs to be on time. The guy behind him is feeling a bit lonely, having not spoken to anyone all week and is in need of some human connection. When the person in front of the two men in the queue starts up a meandering conversation with the shop owner, the first man may start to experience extreme anger and frustration as his need for quickness is not being met. However, the man behind him may be feeling joyful, because his need for human connection and interaction is being met.

As this example demonstrates, the same stimulus can produce different emotions and reactions in different people, depending on how well that situation meets the individual’s personal needs.

When we are able to see that the true cause of our anger is not other people, but arises from a need of ours that is not being met, we can start to take responsibility for our emotions and focus our attention on actions that are most likely to help us get our needs met.

3. Find freedom with choice

Feeling powerless can be one of the greatest threats to our sense of peace and balance. When our need for freedom is not met, it is very common to feel powerless, trapped, irritated and frustrated.

The stories associated with these feelings often come with words such as must, should or need to. ‘I have to…stay at home’, ‘I should…eat less’, ‘I need to..clean the house’.  In stories like these, we remove our choice. Life can quickly seem like one long, joyless list of chores and duties.

If we are able to review our stories from a perspective of choice, we may find we have more freedom than we initially thought.  When we reframe the above statements with ‘I choose to…because I want….’ we may find we feel more empowered by a greater sense of choice and freedom.

For example, ‘I choose to..stay at home, because I want to..keep myself and others safe’, ‘I choose to…eat less, because I want a lighter, healthier feeling body’, ‘I choose to…clean the house, because I want..to live in a fresh and clean space’.

4. Move with Love

‘Love lies at the core of non-violence and begins with love of self’ – D. Adele.

Ahimsa, or non-violence, is the first of the ethical commandments in Yoga, known as the Yamas.

We do not need to suppress, swallow down or repress our anger and frustration in order to avoid violence or harm to others, as in doing so we may cause harm to ourselves.

When we move with love, we are able to maintain compassion for ourselves and others simultaneously. When we leave space to fully experience our own feelings and needs as well as the feelings and needs of others, then we are better able to reflect on the most effective and productive use of our attention and energy.


5. Shout and Sing

When we need to express ourselves, making a loud noise can be a great way to let off some excess steam.

Singing at the top of your lungs in the car, chanting, cheering on a team or playing a musical instrument can be great ways to channel excess emotional energy.


6. Try martial arts

Shadow boxing, qigong, t’ai chi, martial arts or kick boxing are great ways to help release any pent-up negative energy, anger or frustration in a safe and controlled environment.

7. Get outside

If you’re feeling stuck or pent up, getting outside can help stop us feeling like a caged animal.

Gardening, walking the dog, going for a run or riding a bike are all great ways to clear the mind and let off a bit of excess adrenaline.


8. Take up a competitive sport

Taking part in a competitive sport in spring is a great way to release a little bit of aggression, anger or frustration that may have built up over winter, in a non confrontational way.  It can also help motivate us to move our bodies and get active.

9. Attend an online yoga class

Yoga is an excellent way to focus and balance the energy in the mind and  body, helping us to harness our energies with a greater sense of choice and focus.

Trying a seasonal yoga class is a great way to align your body with the energy of the season.

10. Take a deep breath

Pranayama breathing techniques, such as sama vriti, or square breath, are great for cooling down a hot head and bringing an agitated or over-active mind into a place of stillness.

How to practice square breathing

  1. Sitting upright with eyes closed, inhale evenly through the nose for 3 counts.
  2. Gently hold the inhale for 3 counts
  3. Exhale steadily and evenly through the nose for 3 counts
  4. Gently hold the exhale out for 3 counts.

Gradually increase the number you are counting towards, building up slowly and observing the comfort of the held exhale as a guide.