I found myself talking with friends about anger the other day. Specifically, my anger and all of my efforts to not “Hulk out” in front of my children. Hulking out means that I raise my voice more and respond less patiently than I like; it means that I’m reacting rather than mindfully acting, usually in a way that I regret almost instantly. It’s a hot-blooded and short-fused response, and neither of those terms are ones that I typically use to describe myself. (Nor like to use in describing myself.)
Quite honestly I feel inexperienced with this kind of anger – it’s unlike the anger I’ve experienced through most of my life and I’ve little practice in either feeling it or taming it. Usually it arises when my world is chaotic. Like when I’m trying to get dinner ready and the kids themselves are feeling out of sorts…crying, fighting, tugging on my legs, tunneling through them, begging to be in my arms, or generally melting down. As an introverted and highly sensitive person these moments are incredibly hard to manage. Not only do I have my own emotions to navigate but also the wildly vacillating emotions of my children. It feels like their emotions join forces with my own and, before I know it, I’m overwhelmed by the onslaught of angry, upset energies that have suddenly invaded my body.
I suspect I’m not the only one wrestles with their inner Hulk. At least I hope I’m not. Bruce Banner resonates culturally because most of us find ourselves at some tipping point, some edge where all we feel is the combustible anger that threatens our wholeness and wellbeing, with no clear sense of how we got there and bewildered by the magnitude of what we’re feeling. It happens at home, at work, at a restaurant, at an airport…it happens where ever we find ourselves.
So here’s the big question: How do we find peace within the chaos? The chaos can be internal, it can be external. It could be the result of another person’s actions; it could be wholly self-created. What do we do so that we can act mindfully? Here’s what I attempt to do…maybe one or two will work for you.
- Find Your Breath: Seriously. Firing up my ujjayi breath is the easiest and quickest way that I have for re-centering myself. It’s auditory, it shifts the mind to watching the breath, it coaxes the breath to move evenly and deeply, and it’s peaceful for those around me. There’s no time like the present to learn if you don’t have an ujjayi practice. By narrowing the back of the throat, or the glottis, when you breathe, you create a soft oceanic sound. Think about sipping through a straw on your inhalation and fogging up a mirror on your exhalation, all while keeping your mouth closed and breathing through your nose. Try it out when you already feel relaxed and then see if you can start to conjure it when you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or upset. When ujjayi fails, I might turn to bhramari breath or a more simple breath of exhaling out through pursed lips, keeping my mouth and face soft.
- Sing a Song or Sound Out a Simple Chant: Singing and chanting stimulate the vagus nerve, which is your longest nerve in your body and a plays a key role in your parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” system as opposed to your “fight or flight” system, the sympathetic nervous system). OM is a beautiful and simple chant to hum out. Lately I’ve been enjoying chanting “OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,” an invocation of peace in body, speech, and mind. Or, if my children are involved and are seeking a little more peace for themselves, I’ll sing out one or two of our favorite songs. I find that singing for either myself or for others is a way of breaking the silent tension arising in my body, mind, and spirit, like I’m cracking some kind of outer shell in order to let the inner peace rise up.
- Find Something Tactile: Mala beads, whether around the neck or the wrists, offer up a tactile therapy. Rubbing the beads can ease a little worry out of your body, counting the beads can help focus your mind, or simply wearing them can remind you to take a moment to breathe before you respond so that you can act mindfully. I think anything will really work – rosary beads, a special necklace or bracelet, a worry stone or favorite pebble – so long as it feels talismanic somehow. My children will also “worry” my beads when they’re upset, even as I’m wearing the beads.
- Aromatherapy: Smells can be another way to ease yourself back to peace. Find a favorite blend of essential oils and diffuse them during chaotic hours. Or, light a sweet-smelling candle, rub on a lovely lotion, or bake cookies or brownies. I’m a fan of lavender essential oil combined with geranium, bergamot, or grapefruit – it’s uplifting as well as relaxing.
- Humor or Loving Touch: If the interaction involves other people – as it usually does in my case – then I might try a bit of humor or some loving touch to help bridge any emotional or mental distances I feel building. This tip is the hardest when I feel Hulk-like anger arising but it is effective when I can actually get around my ego and tap into my compassion. Both humor and loving touch can disarm yours and the other person’s emotions enough so that you can start to create a little more solidarity and peace.
- Space: If all else fails, walk away. Find a quiet, dark(er) space and take a few breaths while you pull yourself back together. Remember that you don’t always have to react instantaneously to a situation and that, sometimes, it’s even better if you just take a moment away from it.