Deep breaths: Essential for anger management

A study on anger control activities: What makes anger rise or fall?

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According to a recent study from Ohio State University, expressing anger doesn’t help. Calming methods such as yoga, mindfulness, and deep breathing are more effective. Brad Bushman led a study with over 150 research papers and 10,000 participants. They found that lowering physical arousal is critical to reducing anger. Some activities, like jogging, can even make anger worse.

Senior author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at Ohio State University, said, “I think it’s essential to bust the myth that if you’re angry, you should blow off steam—get it off your chest. Venting anger might sound like a good idea, but no scientific evidence supports catharsis theory.”

Bushman suggests that activities that reduce arousal help calm anger. Despite common assumptions, physical activity such as running doesn’t assist because it raises arousal. The study’s leader, Sophie Kjaervik, conducted it as part of her dissertation at Ohio State. It was published online on March 11 in Clinical Psychology Review. Kjærvik, now at Virginia Commonwealth University, was inspired by the popularity of rage rooms, where people smash things to release anger.

Sophie Kjaervik aimed to disprove the idea that expressing anger helps cope with it. She emphasized the importance of reducing physiological arousal to manage anger effectively.

10,189 participants from various backgrounds participated in the 154 research publications examined for this study. They adhered to the Schachter-Singer two-factor theory, which contends that mental and physical interpretations play a role in the experience of emotions such as anger.

Previous reviews mainly focused on changing mental interpretations through cognitive behavioral therapy. However, Kjærvik and Bushman believed that understanding the role of arousal was crucial. Their analysis looked at activities that increase arousal (like hitting a bag or jogging) and those that decrease it (like deep breathing or mindfulness).The findings showed that arousal-lowering activities successfully managed rage in various contexts.

Deep breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and muscle relaxation can efficiently reduce anger. These techniques help people deal with stress and rage in the modern world. 

Conversely, activities that increase arousal, like jogging, tend to be ineffective and can even make anger worse. Introducing play into physical activities might help counteract negative feelings.

According to Bushman’s research, expressing anger doesn’t solve anything and may even make people more aggressive. Instead, it is more successful to control anger by employing techniques to lower arousal.

A lot of these arousal-lowering techniques—like apps or internet videos—are simple to use and frequently cost nothing. To understand and put these skills into practice, you don’t necessarily need to be in therapy.

In conclusion, this study shows how important it is to calm down to handle anger well. When people focus on activities that help them relax, they can better control their emotions, which means they can handle tough situations more calmly and confidently.

Journal reference:

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